My column, Workplace Referee, is designed to help employees and managers gain better insight into each other's point of view (POV). Have a situation you'd like me to address? Please submit it by email here. Don't worry, I'll keep your identity private.

My Boss Told Me My Profile Picture Is Embarrassing

Employee POV: My boss came to me today and told me the HR department contacted him about my profile picture on LinkedIn. Apparently, they were looking at all employee profiles to make sure they looked "appropriate." They're doing a lot of hiring right now and they said potential employees like to check out other employees profiles to see what the company is like. They say my picture looks childish and that it sends the wrong message. I get the impression if I don't change it, it could hurt my career with this company. But, it angers me they would try to pressure me like this.

Manager POV: I just got word from HR that my employee has a photo of her making a weird face and giving an awkward 'thumbs up' on her LinkedIn profile. The company is focused on improving their Employment Brand and feels this photo doesn't send the right message. While I can't force my employee to change her profile photo, I took a look and I do have to admit it really makes her look unprofessional. I get she is trying to be funny, but it has me rethinking her competency. I mean, everyone knows LinkedIn isn't like Facebook and that your profile photos should be more appropriate.

Who's at fault? While a company can't force employees to change their LinkedIn profiles, employees are representatives of the company. And therefore, employers can provide guidelines and ask employees to comply. The profile picture is public domain, and her company is allowed to look at it AND give their honest feedback. It's true, job seekers research companies and the people who work for them to figure out if it's a good place to be employed. Employment Branding is becoming a vital part of recruiting top talent. Moreover, the manager is right in that most people understand LinkedIn is different than Facebook and the photo you use should be a good fit for the purpose of the platform. That said, it sounds like the manager may have approached the employee in an off-putting way, causing her to feel angry and embarrassed. Which, can strain their working relationship.

What can both sides learn from this? 

In this situation, I would advise each side as follows:

Employee Takeaway: If you like your job and this employer, then seriously consider changing the photo. There's a famous saying: "People hear what they see." Do you really want to hurt your career by being defiant with a photograph on LinkedIn? There are plenty of other social media platforms where you can get creative with your profile picture. Moreover, if your current employer found the photo inappropriate, other employers will too. The wrong photo could limit career opportunities offered to you in the future. There are sites today that can help you crowdsource the decision of which photo you should use. You'll be able to determine which of your pictures make you look the most intelligent, likable, and competent.

Manager Takeaway: Give your employee the benefit of the doubt and don't discount her abilities based on one bad profile picture choice. Younger workers were raised on social media as a form of personal expression. She may not realize the implications of using this particular photo on LinkedIn. Companies like yours, who want employees to look good on LinkedIn, should offer training and guidelines to help them learn to use it properly.

Additionally, when discussing an employee's online presence, the key is to be sensitive to the fact that profile pictures are subjective. When you criticized the employee for her choice, you hurt her feelings. Instead, encourage her to consider the upside to choosing a more conventional profile photo as a way to send the right message to those seeking her out on LinkedIn. Also, consider giving everyone in the office a way to upgrade their LinkedIn photo at the same time so she doesn't need to be singled out. Some companies host 'Profile Pic Parties' where they bring in a photographer and invite all employees to get their photo done for free. This helps ensure all the pictures meet your company's standards and send the right message.

Published on: Mar 15, 2017