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To Friend or Not To Friend: How Best to Handle Facebook Friendships with Employees

Originally published in Employment in the Law - Summer 2011
07.15.11

Let’s FACE it…Facebook is here to stay. Its founder was declared Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. A movie about its creation has received critical acclaim and numerous best picture awards. It has over 500 million active users and it was recently valued at $50 billion. It has reconnected us with old friends, ignited social and political revolutions in the middle east, and it recently beat out both Google and Yahoo as the most visited website in the country. Facebook has redefined who we identify as “friends” and has made the word “friending” part of our lexicon. 

 

For the handful of non-Facebook-users reading this article, here’s a quick synopsis of how Facebook friendship works: you set up a Facebook page, add the close friends who begged you to join, and then, usually within only a few hours, people from all stages of your life request to be added as your friend.  From that point forward, you can share as much (or as little) about your life as you choose with your Facebook friends. So, how should companies handle Facebook friendships between management team members and employees? 

 

To Friend or Not To Friend?  

 

Should managers be Facebook friends with subordinate employees? Well, it depends. For those that truly prefer to keep work life and personal life completely separate, the decision is simple: deny all employee friendship requests and, if you feel it is necessary, explain that your Facebook page is solely for family and close friends. For those that enjoy getting to know their coworkers and employees on a more personal level, the answer is not as easy.  Here are some of the pros and cons of “friending” subordinate employees:   

 

  • Pro: Friending employees can help you discover common interests with your staff and can build camaraderie between people in your workforce.
  • Con: Access to your employees’ Facebook pages may reveal their personal problems or issues and can introduce “drama” into your work environment.
        
  • Pro: Allowing your employees access to your Facebook page may show your more personable side, which can make you more “approachable” to employees.
  • Con: Connecting through Facebook may make managers too “approachable” and can blur the line between supervisor and subordinate.
  • Pro: Friending employees may provide insight on how best to motivate employees, which can lead  to new, more effective ways of relating to your employees.
  • Con: Reviewing an employee’s Facebook page may result in discovering an employee’s religious affiliation or health problems, which can be pointed to if claims of discrimination are ever raised by the employee.
        
  • Pro: Friending your employees may uncover their hidden talents and hobbies which could be useful to your business.
  • Con: To avoid “playing favorites,” if you accept a Facebook friend request from one employee, you probably need to accept friend requests from all your employees.

 

So what’s the best approach? Should your company’s managers “friend” or "not friend” employees? While it may seem like the social networking craze is creating new problems for employers, the decision to become Facebook friends involves the same risks associated with enjoying happy hours with those you supervise.  Some managers enjoy connecting with their employees on a more personal level, others do not. At the end of the day, if your company’s social media policy prohibits “friending” subordinates, you should follow that policy. If your company does not have a social media policy (or if the policy is silent on “friending” subordinate employees), the decision is a personal choice. You should weigh the considerations in this article or consult your human resources department for guidance. 

 

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