HR Headaches: My Boss Wants to Be My Friend on Social Media

Developing a personal connection with a boss or employee can be a positive experience, but blurring the lines between your work and home life can also cause negative professional repercussions.

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What fun, a new friend request on your social media page. Oh, no, it’s your boss … what do you do? The mature adult says decline and send a nice message — saying you appreciate the offer, but prefer to keep your personal and professional lives separate. The employee in you wonders if that will have repercussions. After all, there may be colleagues (not bosses) who are friends on your page.

You could ignore it — pretend you didn’t see it and hope they never mention it in real life. If you avoid them long enough, the impulse to blur the line between boss and buddy will pass, right? You can only avoid contact with them for so long before you wonder if they’ve forgotten about it or they’re fighting back the urge to ask why you haven’t accepted.

You may wonder … what’s the harm? You never complain about work or your boss on your pages anyway. There’s nothing to see there that could put your job or relationship with your boss at risk. You may feel pressured to accept the request, but feel torn: your personal life may be an open book online, but you have the right to choose who gets to read it. It’s a conundrum more employees are facing, but there are work-arounds.

How did we get here?

The mix of social and professional lives has never been more blurred. With the advent of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and even Pinterest, we’re sharing our thoughts, likes and dislikes with the world. While many businesses monitor potential and current employee public social media pages, sending friend requests makes it official and provides even deeper access.

Few can resist the temptation to post cute pictures of the kids and pets online and get gushing approval from friends. We love the birthday wishes and words of wisdom when we need support. For some, social media pages are an outlet for political or spiritual beliefs; for others they provide comic relief. Even with limited time online, posts reveal something about the poster. On a good day there may be nothing to hide, but we’re all aware how one bad day can go viral.

Why it’s a bad idea for employees

Allowing the workplace to spill over into your personal life may be risky. There may be  topics you don’t discuss at work but feel free to do so with friends online. You may have an active social life, with frequent pictures of your pursuits. Perhaps you gleefully discuss how trashed you got over the weekend with your manager, but do you want them to see the graphic pictures? Having those available to supervisors may undermine their respect for you, even if they’re not unexpected and you’re a stellar employee.

If your social media pages include anything you wouldn’t share in person at work, it’s probably best not to share online.

Are your personal interests counter-productive to your work persona? If so, why cross them over. If you occasionally find yourself in Facebook jail, you might consider not letting your boss in on the rants that got you censored. If your posts include your obsession with K-Pop or My Little Pony, you may find a common interest — or a reason to wonder. If your social media pages include anything you wouldn’t share in person at work, it’s probably best not to share online.

Are you boring online? You may think that makes for less risk, but if all your manager sees is the occasional holiday post, they may wonder whether you’re blocking them from seeing all your posts. That can make it even more uncomfortable.

Why it’s a bad idea for managers 

The temptation is great to see the full picture of our employees. We may even like them personally and hope to develop a relationship. Overlapping business and friendship might seem like a good idea, but it could put you in the awkward position of seeing things you can’t unsee.

Didn’t know your accounting manager was into cosplay? Surprised to find bungee jumping videos? Wish you hadn’t found out? Privacy laws in most states protect workers from being discriminated against for activities they indulge in outside the workplace that are legal, but that doesn’t mean they won’t color your judgment if you happen upon them.

Beyond running across material that’s NSFW (not safe for work), you may stumble on information that you should not have. An employee may post about personal issues, illness, or a troubled family member. Without their explicit permission, you may have just accessed private medical information. The risk of viewing something you don’t want to see, or shouldn’t, is reason enough to keep the business/personal relationship with employees separate.

Moreover, remember when you’re friends with workers, they’re friends with you. Does everything you post online promote you as management? You might feel your own posts humanize you to your employees. That can be a good thing, but the risk is there that they might also undermine you.

Overlapping business and friendship might seem like a good idea, but it could put you in the awkward position of seeing things you can’t unsee.

Okay — now what? 

Honesty is always the best policy. If you decide to reach out, there are great reasons to let your boss know you’re flattered by the invitation, but that you work hard to keep a work/life balance that separates the two. Before you decline the request, send a quick email or text thanking them for thinking of you, but letting them know you can’t accept.

If you’re not comfortable saying no, you could try to ignore the request and hope it goes away without an in-person discussion or incident. If they ask, you can say you didn’t see it, but then you’re back to square one.

You can talk to HR or the owner of the business and ask that they intervene. An “all managers/supervisors” email (not just to yours) outlining the company frowns on blurring the line between employees and their superiors with online friend relationships should do the trick. HR can include that professional media sites, like LinkedIn, are appropriate for connections between colleagues and supervisors, but personal connections on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and even Pinterest should be avoided.

If all else fails

If HR won’t help and you’re afraid to say no, there may be options. On Facebook you can put people on your Restricted List. This means you’re still friends, but they’ll only have access to posts that you make public or if you tag them specifically. The challenge will be to remember each time you post whether or not you include them. For most people, the default setting for their posts is Friends; you’ll have to take them off that list if possible, or exclude them from each NSFW post.

Instagram, TikTok, and other social media sites may have similar ways to limit access to your posts. Again, you’ll need to remember what permissions you have on each site and when/how to restrict access each time you post online.

Some believe there’s a case to be made for developing personal connections with a boss or employee. If both parties are agreeable, it might be worthwhile, but remember there are risks associated with blurring the lines between work and home life. Be ready for the benefits — but prepared for the pitfalls, if they come.

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