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To Friend or Not to Friend
Study Says Most Uncomfortable Facebooking with Colleagues

By Aliah D. Wright  8/31/2009
 


If you are a Facebook user, at some point you will sit down in front of your computer and discover a friend request from someone you really don’t consider a friend: a business colleague you say “hi” to over coffee (occasionally) or perhaps someone you met at a conference or your immediate supervisor.

What should you do?

Accept the request, say the folks at Office Team.

But a recent survey from the administrative staffing company says 48 percent of executives surveyed across the United States aren’t comfortable with being friends on Facebook with the employees they manage. Forty-seven percent of the executives also are uncomfortable “friending” their bosses.

Office Team also conducted the survey in Canada and found that seven in 10 executives are uncomfortable being friended by the employees they manage (72 percent) or their bosses (69 percent).

"The line between personal and professional has grown increasingly blurred as more people use social networking web sites for business purposes,” says Office Team Executive Director Robert Hosking.

“Although not everyone is comfortable using sites like Facebook to connect with professional contacts, it’s wise to be prepared for these types of requests,” he says.

Hosking adds that employees who use Facebook should be sure they are following their firm’s social networking policy. They should then familiarize themselves with the site’s privacy settings and create different lists to control how—and with whom—information is shared. “Individuals should classify their professional contacts into a ‘work’ list and limit what personal details this group can view,” Hosking says.

Recruiter Michael Long agrees.

“Learning privacy settings extremely well and developing groups and choosing how your information is going to be disseminated is key,” says Long, a prominent HR blogger, Twitter expert and founder of theredrecruiter.com. “Don’t handicap yourself by not using one of the most powerful tools in social networking for your professional endeavors—just learn how to adjust your privacy settings and groups so you can take advantage of this tool.”

It’s the Internet, Stupid

Long says if you don’t want it out there, don’t put it online. “There’s no real cure for stupid,” he quips.

He adds that employees should exercise “common sense” when using Facebook or any other social networking site.

“For me, personally, if you’re already working for a company, I don’t see [that] it’s a terrible thing for you to be connected with people you work with unless you have something to hide.

“It’s a big gray area.”

In a press release, Office Team provided some common Facebook situations professionals might encounter and how to handle them:

·         You’re tagged in an embarrassing photo. Untag yourself and change your privacy settings so photos are viewable only by your close friends or yourself.

·         You’re friended by someone you don’t want to connect with. It might be best to accept friend requests from colleagues to avoid slighting them, but add them to a “work” list and adjust your privacy settings so you can effectively separate your professional life from your private life. You could simply tell business colleagues to connect with you on LinkedIn, another social networking site for professionals, but you might miss opportunities.
“LinkedIn is great for professional networking, but it’s not the same type of engine Facebook is for sharing content,” Long says. “People don’t tend to recognize that your strongest social circle is the same kind in which you work. If you leave out the professional pieces of that, you might be leaving out a strong angle for professional development or professional networking.”

·         You’re considering friending your boss. It might seem like a natural extension of amiable office small talk, but think twice before proactively friending your boss, Office Team says. It could become awkward for everyone. Take, for instance, the young woman who was promptly fired after profanely disparaging her boss and her job on her Facebook page. (Warning: This link contains profane language).

·         You want to join various groups. You should join groups that interest you. But if you have colleagues in your network and don’t want them to see the groups you join, remember to adjust your application settings.

·         You would like to be a fan of certain pages. Becoming a fan of pages on Facebook is visible to anyone who can view your profile, so you should avoid becoming a fan of any page you are uncomfortable sharing with co-workers or business contacts in your network.

·         You love quizzes. Consider carefully before taking online quizzes and posting the results to your Facebook page—unless you want professional contacts to know which “Gilligan’s Island” character you most resemble or which “Star Trek” character you are.

More Results

Office Team says its survey in the United States was conducted by an independent research firm and was based on telephone interviews with 150 randomly selected senior executives at the nation’s 1,000 largest companies. In Canada, 100 executives were surveyed.

The respondents were asked: “How comfortable would you feel about being ‘friended’ by the following individuals on Facebook?”

Some of the U.S. responses:

Your Boss

Very comfortable – 19 percent

Somewhat comfortable – 28 percent

Not very comfortable – 15 percent

Not comfortable at all – 32 percent

Don’t know – 6 percent

Your Colleagues

Very comfortable – 13 percent

Somewhat comfortable – 38 percent

Not very comfortable – 13 percent

Not comfortable at all – 28 percent

Don’t know – 8 percent

People You Manage

Very comfortable – 12 percent

Somewhat comfortable – 32 percent

Not very comfortable – 15 percent

Not comfortable at all – 33 percent

Don’t know – 8 percent

 

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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