You've worked hard to create a strong professional relationship with your employees. You recognize their efforts, show appreciation when they've done an exceptional job, and do everything in your power to maintain a culture of collaboration.
Considering how much time you spend together, connecting with them through social media might seem as harmless as friending an old college roommate. But think twice before initiating (or accepting) a friend request with an employee.
There are plenty of valid reasons not to connect with people you supervise, ranging from simply awkward to leaving them feeling as if you are intruding on their personal life.
Certainly, there is the other side of the coin. Appropriately sharing information with others tends to strengthen relationships. Depending on your industry, having an active social media presence that includes coworkers can be an essential part of your brand.
Age offers different perspectives as well. One study found that younger workers are more comfortable about friending their supervisors, with employees under age 34 more than twice as likely to connect with their boss online than counterparts in the 35 to 54 age range.
But the pitfalls can outweigh the benefits. Research published in the Academy of Management Review found that managing our professional and personal worlds is challenging enough, but when they clash in online social networks, we are interacting without the guidance of social cues that face-to-face interactions provide.
Here are some things to consider before sending or accepting an employee friend request:
1. Most social media activity is too personal for work.
Typical Facebook posts include pictures of the kids, vacation photos, a selfie taken with friends, a comment on how the day is going, or a humorous meme.
Posting on social media can feel as comfortable as talking to a good friend, so it's easy to forget that your relationship with many of your followers is more complex than simply being pals. Social media blurs the boundaries between personal and professional.
2. You can't fully tailor your activity feed.
Whether or not you are well versed in the privacy settings of your preferred social media platforms, they are constantly changing and evolving, and you may not have the level of control over your content that you think you do.
Even if you update your pages judiciously, you could very well be seen in someone else's photos or be tagged in another friend's inappropriate status update.
One questionable post or awkward party photo can live forever on social media, and giving employees a front row seat could hinder your image as a leader.
3. It's bound to make your team uncomfortable.
When you send a friend request, it often places employees in a tricky position: unless they genuinely want to friend you, they may friend you because they feel pressured to, come up with a reason to decline, or they will simply ignore the request and hope you forget about it.
In any scenario, they are likely to wonder if they just sabotaged their careers in the process. Think twice about friending employees; they are carefully considering whether or not to accept your request.
4. It adds to your professional responsibilities.
No matter how friendly you are with employees in person or online, you are still the boss. You handle their quarterly reviews, make tough decisions, have potentially unpleasant discussions about performance, take corrective measures, and even fire people at times.
Those managerial duties are difficult enough without the added burden of seeing an employee's personal status updates or "TGIF" comments.
5. You'll have access to sensitive information.
As a social media connection, seeing what employees post about their health problems, medical history, political views, and religious or lifestyle preferences can be used as fodder for a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, according to some employment lawyers.
Whether or not it results in a legal battle, it's difficult not to be influenced by sensitive information your employees post.
6. Your privacy is eroded.
If you are out of the office and check your Facebook feed, one comment or like may mean your staff will see that you are visiting social media on company time (and it works both ways).
For example, if you hit the next level in Candy Crush, it could be posted on your followers' news feeds. If you are at a conference, photos of you hanging out at the bar in the wee hours could find their way online for employees/friends to see.
The bottom line: Business and pleasure seldom mix effectively when it comes to friending your employees on social media. You may want them to post company updates, but you don't have to supervise their feeds.