You’re thumbing through your Facebook feed, when that red dot winks at you from the corner of your screen. There you have it: a list of coworkers patiently waiting in friend-request limbo, and you don’t know what to do — or do you? Becoming Facebook official with your team is officially complex. But with a little thinking behind your approach, you’ll feel more in control when that first request trickles in.
It’s okay to feel weird at first
Let’s face it: our friending fears are totally normal. A survey from Robert Half found that 55 percent of executives weren’t comfortable with friending their bosses, while 57 percent were also leery of friending people they managed. Some corporate social media policies can help ease the conundrum, but many companies either don’t have one, or have policies that don’t address the issue. Nevertheless, Nancy Rothbard of the University of Pennsylvania says that cutting out social media altogether isn’t the solution. Facebook friendships are a natural extension of workplace friendships. In Rothbard’s paper, “OMG My Boss Just Friended Me,” she found that while the idea of friending your team can indeed be awkward, it can also be an incredible opportunity. Swapping details with people — online or off — brings us closer. And at work, the act of sharing our lives on social networks can actually make us more likable. Rothbard explains, “If I share more with you, you like me better. And if you share more with me, then I like you better. It’s a cycle.”
Here are a few more things to think about when confronted with the issue of friending coworkers:
Take a stand
Do whatever makes you feel comfortable — and stick with it. The worst thing you can do is only accept an exclusive group of people, says Rothbard. The moment you start confirming friend requests from coworkers, she suggests you make it a practice to accept all requests from that point on. If you’re not going to become friends with your team, be upfront about it. Tell the person you’re happy to add them as a friend once you’re no longer coworkers, but at the moment, you prefer to keep your profile a bit more private. Once your teammate understands the reasoning behind your decision, it will be easier for them to make peace with it.
Be aware of the roles gender and power play
Gender and power are invisible players in the Facebook game. Research from Russell Herder found that 29 percent of respondents felt pressured when a boss initiated a friend request. And gender complicates things even more. In Rothbard’s study, people were more open to accepting friend requests from female bosses, especially those who tended to be oversharers. Conversely, respondents were less likely to accept invitations from their male bosses, especially when they were share-happy. Be sensitive to the powers in play, and do whatever you can to make sure the request is seen for the noncommittal invitation that it is.
Keep it tame
In Facebook land, anything can go public in an instant. Therefore, don’t post anything that you aren’t cool with the whole world seeing. Another good rule of thumb is not to use the platform to vent about work. But this is where things get tricky. The National Labor Review Board writes that while employers cannot stop you from talking about topics that are protected by federal law, such as a work concern, your comment may come back to bite you if it’s only for your own benefit. In other words, if your comment isn’t part of a group effort to improve something at work, also called “concerted activity,” your company may act on it. So be careful when airing your grievances online, particularly when your coworkers are part of the audience.
Curate with a vengeance
Use a friend request as a chance to mold your profile into something you can feel good about.
Your profile should reflect who you are and how you want to be seen by the Facebook hive. While sometimes those two things may be at odds, you have many ways to find a happy medium. If you choose to tone down your profile, you can either hide what others can see, delete certain posts and photos, and/or set up filters. Setting up filters will give you more options over who can see each post when you’re ready to publish, along with a variety of other ways to tailor your experience.
Before diving into a Facebook friendship, revisit these corners of your profile:
Leave no stone unturned. Click through the Photos of You, Your Photos, and Albums tabs to make sure all is good. You never know what could’ve lodged itself into your photo stream without you noticing.
- To get there: Photos tab at the top of your timeline
About Me section
If you’d like to keep your birthday and political beliefs under lock and key, be sure to pay a visit to this section.
- To get there: About → Contact and Basic Info → Basic Information
Feel more at ease knowing that your tagged photos and posts will require approval before showing up on your timeline.
- To get there: Settings → Privacy → Who can see my stuff? → Review all your posts and posts you’re tagged in
The path to the Confirm-friend button is blue and full of terrors. Yet once you turn that corner, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes your coworkers feel comfortable. And it’s that mutual understanding that will help you find your place on the blurry line that defines where our online lives end and our IRL lives begin.