HRDs: Don’t let staff befriend managers (on social media anyway)

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Mar 21, 2022

Whenever I give new joiners advice I often find myself saying the same thing: consider blocking their new co-workers on social media, or – at the very least – make sure they keep their own social media pages private.

I get it. To many people this may sound odd. But while HR professionals will often talk about keeping social media pages locked down and cleaned up during a job search, few spend much time talking about what to do once someone’s landed a job. And it’s my view that if profiles are kept private during job searches, they should be kept so afterwards.

Here’s why. As an HR professional I’ve seen managers and co-workers misuse their access to their employee’s social media profiles in every position I’ve ever had. They start with seemingly low-risk connection or Facebook friend requests – which in theory sounds fine. Why not? I hear you ask. HR thought leaders commonly give the nod to people be their authentic self, and as an HR professional myself I support this idea.

However, it is hard these days to be your authentic self-online and to not offend a total stranger. We are living in a time where very loud and differing opinions can be off-putting. If employees connect with new co-workers right away they could be limiting their ability to truly grow a relationship with them in real life.

Established friends see past 280 characters

When people show their ‘true authentic self’ the people they don’t offend are typically those they already know. These established friends can look past 280 characters, and they often see where these people are coming from. They do so because the relationship they have has been built up through normal, consistent interaction rather than with a work relationship that’s only just started.

Since verbalizing this advice, plenty of HR professionals have shared their own horror stories of their own. Often, they haven’t stemmed from differing religious, political, spiritual, or human rights opinions. Instead they’ve been examples ranging from complaining about lunch selections to celebrating a coworker’s promotion. But they’ve all led to fallouts that have impacted people’s ability to be productive, coach, mentor, or provide support to individuals within the organization.

I’ve even had my own experience of this, where a person ­– let’s call her Becky –had become increasingly paranoid about a relationship I was building with another co-worker; let’s call her Amy.

One day I posted a quote on my Instagram that Becky thought was directed towards her. Actually it was a bible verse, from my own personal devotional that day – and when Amy commented ‘Amen’ under the post, Becky decided that this post must be about her. Cutting a long story short, Becky went to her direct report, showed her the exchange and proceeded to complain that we weren’t excited about her promotion and didn’t think she deserved it. My boss suggested I block her. The thought had not occurred to me. Blocking her seemed excessive. But it was continuing to interfere with work, so I did. Things were so much more peaceful after that.

Blocking is beneficial

I realized through this experience that blocking can be used in a proactive way to avoid letting the waters get muddy. It’s also taught me that when you do have friends at work you have to be intentional about setting boundaries up-front, and proactively inform those in the management chain about a friendship.

In my case, work friends need to know I can’t discuss what goes on in HR – none of the confidential information anyway. They need to know I can’t get them out of trouble or give them a heads up on resignations, new positions, or any other company related information. They have to be treated like every other employee.

I’m applying that same reasoning to connecting with friends at work online. Set boundaries from the start, not just to protect you, but to protect your friendships. Setting up boundaries prevents snooping on someone’s social media. I found an old study (from 2018), that said 48% of employers check up on current employees on social media. They can’t do that if your settings are private and you aren’t connected to someone in the organization who can snoop for them.

Snooping doesn’t create meaningful relationships

As we continue to navigate the pandemic and into a world of remote work, I’d bet that percentage has now increased to far more than 48%.

But I’d counsel other HRDs to encourage their employees not to connect with their managers still. Don’t give them an opportunity to misuse personal information. How on earth are we going to build meaningful relationships at work if snooping on someone’s social media becomes a substitute for having a conversation about expectations and performance?

I’m not suggesting HRDs have a policy against managers and subordinates connecting, but what I am suggesting is that they make it a conversation in management training. Some subordinates may feel obligated to accept a connection request from a manager, even if they aren’t comfortable with them having access to their social media profiles. Some managers will misuse this access.

I maintain that the colleagues of people just starting at a company are basically strangers. As such, they could easily be offended by something voiced on social media. I’d rather employees avoid a situation where instead of being their authentic self, they have to filter what they say to keep the peace at work.



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