Should You Be Facebook Friends With Your Employees?

One of the questions I frequently get asked at presentations about social media is about becoming Facebook friends with their employees. Many HR professionals have shared stories of people getting angry about them not being friends with them on Facebook, yet one told me that their in-house lawyer said it would be illegal to be friends with an employee on Facebook.

As a guy who friends liberally (I have work friends from every job I’ve had since 2002 and I was friends with my current boss before I got my job), I am usually not the right person to ask. My stance has been far from conservative when it comes to workplace friendships and social media connections in general. In the past, I’ve advocated HR professionals connecting with who they want to connect with socially, giving LinkedIn recommendations as you choose, and basically treating online networking sites like you would any other networking function.

Still, there is probably something that is comforting about absolutely denying any and all professional connections on Facebook (and even more extreme, some will only connect with professional peers or higher on LinkedIn). No gray area means no risk. It also means no judgment nor explanation is required. Simply saying you don’t connect with people at work is like saying you won’t ever go out with people from work outside of business hours.

What?

For the more socially inclined among us, this is impossible. And for those who know work politics, you know the 9-to-5 attitude isn’t sustainable for many careers. But how do you connect with co-workers in a sensible way? See which one of these types fits you best and give it a shot.

The Social Butterfly

Go out and find your co-workers and connect with them. Accept every friend request. If you are already socially adept, this makes sense. If you are a social recluse though, you may freak some people out, and they may wonder why you are spying on them.

My advice: You may want to connect with everyone but you don’t have to. Just find polite ways to decline. Or just keep friending.

The Reluctant Friender

You have your profile out there but you don’t go out of your way to connect with co-workers. When one does try to connect with you though, you accept the connection and figure it can’t hurt. Your stock answer when someone asks why you aren’t connected: “You haven’t sent me an invite yet.”

My advice: You can initiate contact every once in a while, you know.

The Clique Leader

You’ve got your friends at work, a tight inner circle of likeminded folks that you can find refuge with during the long hours. Your social networks reflect this. Your profile is locked down to only your closest confidants at work. Anyone suspected of leaking info is out. Your stock answer for not being connected: “Hmmm, I must have missed it.”

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My advice: Being in a clique at work gives you none of the benefits of networking. Open up a little.

The Machiavelli

You’re friends with the boss and people who influence the boss. If a connection can help your career, you’ll make it. If you’re Bill the HR assistant though, you can probably forget about this one. How to identify: Five recommendations sitting in the boss’s inbox (just in case they missed it).

My advice: Playing the political game works for a while until you realize that you’re always chasing power instead of capturing it for yourself.

The Stick in the Mud

You hate being social both at work and online. You may have a LinkedIn profile (no connections) but you certainly don’t have Facebook or Twitter. And if you do, it is only for those personal friends. No work people allowed.

My advice: Make some friends at work, even if it is only a couple. Then we can talk about Facebook friends.

Where do you stand on friending employees on Facebook and other social networking sites?

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