Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I am new to the work force. I'm working at a small, family-owned and
-operated firm. Everyone who works there, besides me and another new hire (we'll call her Amanda), are either relatives or very close family friends. About a week after Amanda started, she proceeded to friend everyone in the office on Facebook. Obviously, everyone else was already connected, but she did not add me, because my privacy settings make finding me very difficult. No one else in the office has mentioned anything about this, and I assumed I was being professional by keeping work and personal life separate. My privacy settings don't mean I have anything to hide; I just don't like to broadcast everything I post to the entire world.
Anyway, this week Amanda found me on Facebook since I had "liked" our company page when I first started (Note to self: Don't like company pages!) and sent me a friend request from her personal page.
I am nervous that denying her request and explaining to her that I like to keep work and home life separate will not go over well, and will be seen as me not fitting into the culture that my company is trying to create, where everyone is very close. Should I just accept her request, or do you have any other suggestions for how to handle this?
You have a few options:
1. Just ignore the Facebook request. You don't need to explain to your co-worker why you haven't accepted it; there's a good chance that she's not even going to notice or ask you about it. If she ever does ask you about it, say something noncommittal--"Oh, I'm hardly ever on Facebook" or "I didn't see it; I'll have to remember to look next time I'm on" or whatever.
2. Accept the request, and then adjust your privacy settings so no one else from work can see your posts. If other co-workers ever notice that they never see anything from you on Facebook and ask you why you don't post much (it's possible, but highly unlikely), you can just say you're simply not a big Facebook user. (You can also hide their posts, if you don't want to see them. They won't know that you've done this.)
3. Do No. 1, but then be straightforward if she asks you about it. You can say, "I'm old-fashioned about Facebook. It's been drilled into me to keep professional and personal stuff separate."
Any of these will work. If anyone has an issue with No. 3 (and it doesn't sound like you've been given any reason to worry that anyone will, except maybe this one person), well, that points to a cultural thing that you have to decide if you want. Do you want to work somewhere that's so tightly knit that those boundaries aren't respected?
Also, since you're new to the work force, I want to make sure you know that this type of culture, in which people are intertwined in one another's personal lives, isn't a normal workplace thing. It's unusual enough that you should make a conscious decision about whether it's something you like. And while you might decide that you do like it, be aware that there are big potential downsides to it, including people not being held to high standards, no consequences for poor performance, invasions of your privacy, feeling that you can never get away from work, and a frequent lack of professionalism.
I'm pointing this out not to influence you one way or another, but because too often when people are new to the work world, they assume that whatever they see in their first workplace is normal--when it could be highly dysfunctional. I don't know if that's the case with your office--for all I know, it's highly functional--but I do want to encourage you to think critically about the situation and not just accept it.
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