According to research, as many as 1.6 million Aussie workers say they’ve regretted inviting their boss or colleague to be a friend online. With the lines between personal and professional lives increasingly becoming blurred thanks to digital technologies, it raises the question- should you be friends with your staff on Facebook?
Most of our time is spent surrounded by our colleagues- through regular hours, meetings or staff bonding activities and, simply extending this relationship through social media may seem harmless. For many businesses that exist within industries that rely heavily on social media, having a connected presence online can be an essential component of the brand or serve to strengthen work relationships. Furthermore, when working with younger employees (think Millennials or Gen Y), connecting to them through social media is generally the norm with research showing that Gen Y are using their profiles as an extension of their professional personality.
However, connecting with staff on Facebook can cause issues related to bullying, harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination.
A case that went before the Fair Work Commission (FWC) highlights some of the dangers that come with friending co-workers on Facebook. This case saw real estate agent, Rachael Roberts, file an application with the FWC to stop bullying by the business principals, James Bird and Lisa Bird.
Roberts made 18 different accusations of workplace bullying with nine being upheld by the FWC- including Lisa Bird defriending Roberts on Facebook. The FWC commission ruled “this action by Mrs Bird evidences a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour.”
What can go wrong by friending staff?
As illustrated by the case above, connecting on social media can worsen legal claims surrounding harassment and bullying.
Not only this, friending staff on Facebook opens up a can of worms surrounding private information. A social media connection can reveal information such as medical history, health problems, religious views, political standings and lifestyle preferences. Regardless of whether this results in a legal battle, it’s often hard to disassociate this information with employees once it has been seen and it’s safer to avoid knowing this information altogether.
Friending staff members can also result in lost credibility- one inappropriate photo or status can tarnish a professional reputation from both an employee and employer perspective.
What should you do if an employee tries to friend you?
- Ignore it, or politely decline
In small offices, this can become a point of awkwardness if a request is completely ignored. Politely declining all requests and making it clear that you are keeping Facebook exclusively for close friends and family can help ease this awkwardness and draw a line between professional and private life.
- Have a policy on social networking
Most workplaces will already have this but implementing policies that specifically outline that employees should avoid friending each other can make it simple and straightforward to turn back any friend requests. Having a blanket policy can avoid situations where you are socially connected to some employees while not with others- (which can also assist in bullying cases, as illustrated above).
While research finds that 33% of Australian employees say they are comfortable with being friends with their boss on social media networks, it’s important to remember that even if you are friends on Facebook, a formal employee/employer relationship still exists and often issues that arise are easily preventable by avoiding connecting in the first place.