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Work Etiquette: Should Co-workers Be Friends on Facebook?

It’s a question many of us don’t know how to answer when it comes to bosses, colleagues and other professional contacts

Instant Offices take a look into Facebook friend culture in the workplace. Should we be friends on Facebook? But with more than one billion people active on Facebook it’s inevitable that our virtual lives will overlap with our professional ones eventually. Social media has created a minefield of etiquette-based questions that we’re still learning to navigate in the workplace.

Is our trepidation over the ‘accept friend request’ button justified? Some people would say unequivocally, yes! Last year Facebook caused an uproar when a workplace tribunal in Australia ruled that unfriending someone on the social platform is tantamount to workplace bullying.

This happened after one colleague unfriended another after a fight, and the case ended up at the Fair Work Commission. The final verdict shocked many into re-examining their social media practises at work, and led to divided opinions on the ‘right way’ to tackle friend requests from co-workers. While some recruitment agencies and HR experts explicitly warn against colleagues being friends on Facebook, there are those who encourage it. Here’s a look at both sides of pressing the ‘accept’ button.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Facebook Friends with Co-workers

It’s the Wrong Social Platform

According to Art Markman, a professor of Psychology and Marketing in Texas, the best course of action is to either ignore Facebook friend requests from co-workers, or flat out turn them down. He explains: “We have family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and an extended social network.

Google+ tried to deal with this complexity by creating different circles you could choose to share with. Facebook, because of its origins as a social tool for college students, glossed over these distinctions. Consequently, there is only one level of connection in Facebook-friend.” This can lead to problems if we don’t manage our profiles professionally.

You Could Lose Your Job

There are countless cases of employees losing their jobs over social media rants gone wrong, such as the 16-year-old girl who was fired for calling her job boring on Facebook, or the 27-year-old man who was fired for liking a picture a colleague uploaded to Facebook which mocked the clothing of another employee.

According to an article published in Time magazine, work friends shouldn’t be Facebook friends because “through Facebook, one’s personality, self-image and interests are exposed, and these details can affect how we’re perceived by co-workers and managers”.

Your Career Could Take a Knock

According to The Telegraph, almost half of employers have rejected a potential employee after finding incriminating material on their Facebook page. That’s before you’ve even been employed. The stakes are much higher when trying to propel your career upward.

Experts say you should avoid “friending” your direct manager because of his or her influence on your career trajectory. They can make your work life wonderful or miserable, and with that in mind, it’s best to leave Facebook out of the equation.

Why You Should Be Facebook Friends with Co-workers

Create Strong Bonds

The longer you work at a company the closer you’ll become to some of your co-workers, bosses and mentors, which means friending them on social media is a natural progression. Creating bonds outside of the workplace not only helps to strengthen relationships within teams, but also create comradery, which can lead to a happier working environment.According to Business Insider, employees who are most unwilling to develop workplace friendships are also among the least likely to get promoted.

Improve Communication

When an employee connects with a boss on Facebook, the social interaction can improve communication and lead to better relationships. It allows us to tackle small talk more effectively, which can lead to more meaningful conversations. Improve Perception Giving colleagues and bosses a glimpse into your personal life will help them form a well-rounded view of you.

You may be modest about your achievements at work and be a great athlete outside of the office, but co-workers wouldn’t know that unless they were following you on Facebook. You might be in a management position, but showing employees that you work at an animal shelter on the weekend can make you more relatable. Ultimately, social media humanises us, and magnifies our personalities, and sharing that with our co-workers can not only enhance how we are perceived, but also help us be seen in a different, more positive light.

Four Ways to Decide if You Should Facebook Friend a Co-worker

1. Examine your Work Culture

Your company’s culture should be a clear indication of how to proceed when trying to decide whether to accept Facebook friend requests or not. Is it a casual environment, is there a strong focus on relationships, do teams socialise regularly, is there an open-door policy? These are all factors that will, and should, influence your decision.

2. Examine your Facebook Page

Look at the last 20 posts you’ve shared or liked. If you feel comfortable with the way they represent you and wouldn’t mind a peer or boss seeing them, you’re probably in a good position to send a friend request or accept one, with little concern.

3. What do you have in common?

Just because you spend eight hours a day with someone, doesn’t mean you’re friends. Courtesy and etiquette dictates that while at work, you interact in a professional manner with co-workers and management, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you should be friends outside of work. If you do find yourself becoming genuine friends with a colleague, either because you have something in common or you simply get along and could happily spend time together, becoming friends on Facebook is not ruled out.

4. Do you share work-related content on Facebook?

If your Facebook feed is a good mix of private posts and content on professional topics, you might consider accepting a friend request from a co-worker. Many people use Facebook to keep in touch with business contacts and as such, ensure that their feed is a decent mix of work and life posts.

At the end of it all, there’s no one-size fits all answer to this question, and though it’s always best to err on the side of caution in a professional setting, don’t discount the positive impact of building better relationships with your co-workers – just make sure your Facebook privacy settings are maximised. Find out how you can get along with them way better in our Coworking Etiquette infographic.

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