Emergency Mailbag: Should she “Friend” her boss on Facebook?

Friending boss on facebookShould you “friend” your boss on Facebook? We just got this request in from a reader, and we thought we’d post it for the group to weigh in:

new problem:
an 8th year i.e. someone very much the boss of me (isn’t everyone?) just found me on facebook and wants to be added. i took a look at his profile and he’s friends with most of the senior associates and about half of the partners in our group. we are friendly and he’s a nice guy, but we are not actually friends.

i don’t know what to do. i like to keep facebook for just friends, so i don’t even add people that i am acquainted with, or people i used to know (like people from high school that i haven’t seen in years). but i don’t think that rejecting the invitation is a good idea considering that i am supposed to be trying to integrate myself into the group. and wouldn’t limited profile be obvious, like what am i trying to hide?

is this the end of my facebook? there’s nothing bad on there, but it is my personal space.

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help!

Eeesh. We hate these decisions. We would probably accept him as a friend, but then our Facebook friends list has become overrun by former classmates from our Midwestern hometown who just discovered Facebook. (And boy, do they love to update their status.) In other words, we’re not really too picky about it — unlike LinkedIn, where we only link with people we could happily recommend to someone else. On the other hand, you could ignore him — if he asks about it later you could lie and say oh, I haven’t checked that e-mail account in ages, or “Oh, you know I saw that and then totally forgot about it” and let it go. We’d probably do the latter if we had an active dislike for this guy.

Readers, weigh in: what would you do? (Also, if anyone is so inclined, become a fan of Corporette on Facebook!)

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Comments

  1. She could accept him as a friend and set up privacy settings that would allow him to only see certain parts of her profile. He will never know (unless he views your profile through someone else’s facebook account) that he isnt seeing the entire profile.

  2. Anna — you’re blowing our mind. That’s available? We had no idea.

  3. My first inclination is to say ‘no’ in person. I would thank him for the invite, but explain that it makes you nervous to mix your home life with your work life. Make a rule for yourself and stick to it that is like “I don’t ‘friend’ people from work,” or “I’ll ‘friend’ co-workers but I will always keep my profile limited with them (I work at a university and my rule is that I do not ‘friend’ current students). This approach tends to make people feel better, and not singled out that you didn’t ‘friend’ them. It also protects you from seeming like you have a ‘friending’ agenda.
    Perhaps if you have a LinkedIn or other account that you keep professional you could instead offer to be ‘friends’ there.
    It also depends on him. If he has ~250 ‘friends’ your updates would probably get lost in the shuffle.
    And it depends on you. I use facebook to look at photos of my friends and I make changes/post things less than once a month. I also don’t keep any information about my dating status/personal life available. In which case I don’t have a problem adding people from work. But if you actually use facebook to socialize then you may want to limit work people from seeing it (even if someone is your peer or subordinate it will not prevent them from spreading gossip, if they felt so inclined).
    I would advise against playing games such as feigning ‘oh I *never* got your invite’ and worse, repeating when he resends his request, or trying to keep two personas.

  4. Yes Anna, please share! To the best of my knowledge limited profile is no longer an option so I just turned down a request from our office manager… Little bit of a different situation though since he’s new to the firm and I’m not but still awkward. I’m hoping he just doesn’t notice…

  5. Anna is completely right – several colleagues from my last job just got on Facebook, and I did exactly that before accepting their invites. :)

  6. PS – sorry for the second comment – I would not ignore the invite – some people take these things ridiculously personally when it comes to Facebook.

  7. The facebook privacy settings are amazing. If you use them properly, you should never have to worry about someone that you “friend” accessing too much, or potentially inappropriate information about you.

  8. I have had the same dilemma. When I was new to facebook, I accepted all of these requests and even sent a few friend requests to partners with whom I am friendly. However, once I got more involved in fb and more and more friends from growing up and college were added I realized that fb is much more personal than I want partners to see. I ended up putting a lot of political stuff up during the election but even if I hadn’t I am not sure that I want partners to see my high school swim team photo that a friend “tagged” me in and so it now shows up on my page.

    I quietly un-friended these people. The nice thing is that they don’t get notified and, as long as they have a bunch of friends, they will never notice. I would accept their friend request, tone down your posting for a couple of weeks and then quietly unfriend them.

    I would NOT NOT NOT talk about this in person. I find it very odd when people bring up our fb “friend” status is real life. This is an on-line thing and many people take friend-ing somebody on facebook to be very inconsequential and casual. Bringing it up face to face just makes it strange, especially if you aren’t really friends with the person. Hey, they are not an idiot, they likely realize that you aren’t really friends outside of fb and didn’t likely ‘friend’ you for any other reason than they have all of their colleagues and everyone that they know as a fb friend. If you go to them and say, “hey, I ignored your fb friend request because [we aren’t really friends] and I keep it personal” that is very strange. Now they think that you think that they wanted to get personal with you. That can’t end up good for you.

  9. Situations like this are precisely why I finally deleted my FB account. The only thing more uncomfortable than coworkers friending you is having a client friend you, and even a limited profile would expose more personal/social info about me than I am comfortable with my clients having access to. There is really *no* polite way to decline a friend request, and the risk of damaging my work relationships far outweighs the social utility of FB for me.

  10. Accept the request, but not before:
    1. Setting up a “coworkers” friend list – done by clicking on “make a new list” on the top left of the friends screen
    2. Editing what the list can see – Settings/Privacy Settings. Click “custom” under whatever category you don’t want the coworkers to see, and type the friend list name into the box.

    I allow coworkers to see my basic stuff (name, hometown, school and work info) and most of my photos (vacation, law school, etc – there are no drunkface pics and only a few where I am in a swimsuit). I don’t allow them to see/post on my wall or see status updates, or my personal info. I think the trick is to allow some personal info to be visible… otherwise they’d catch on that you are blocking things!

  11. PS – it won’t matter if some of the people now in the “coworkers” list might notice that some information is now gone from your profile. Enough people delete entire swaths of their info upon occasion that suddenly having, say, your favorite tv shows disappear won’t be a flag.

  12. I plan on making a 2nd profile just for this scenario when I graduate law school. It will be pretty bland. Then I’ll keep my “real” profile unsearchable, unfriendable, and completely unseeable by everyone but my friends (as it is now)

  13. I am just now getting acquainted with Facebook, so this has been extremely helpful.

    Thanks, everyone!

  14. Limited Profile! That is what I did to all of my co-workers, especially partners. You never want them reading your status!

  15. Here are great directions for how to set up different groups of friends that have different degrees of access to your profile:

    http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-privacy/

  16. I’d join LinkedIn and add him there. Then I’d explain that I prefer to use facebook as a specific tool to keep up with a close group of friends outside the office. That way, I can keep it professional without being insulting (which is what I assume you are trying to avoid). Once on LinkedIn you can also invite everyone else in the group, too.

    Also, you didn’t mention how new this person is to facebook? I know that some folks that just recently discover facebook go a little crazy and add everyone they can find…

  17. I agree with Kay, a redirection to LinkedIn is what immediately came to mind when I read the reader question.

  18. This issue feels like deja vu to me…I recently overhauled my FB profile in order to keep my boss from finding me – for the same reasons as in the question. When I knew he was starting to use his profile more I preemptively blocked him, set all my privacy a little stricter, and also set up my friend lists so my “coworkers/networking” list would only be able to see general info and not photos or anything. It works very well.

    If your boss asks you in person, just mention that your Facebook is not used for networking and would like to keep your work life and your personal life separate.

  19. One more thing occured to me – I really just use facebook to see other people’s updates and pictures and I rarely post a personal update – so my social life isn’t on facebook. And any professional contact is blocked from seeing my wall.

  20. There’s a detailed article about handling FB privacy settings in the Technology section of the NY Times. It’s one of the ‘most emailed’, so just look in the right hand column of that section to find it.

  21. Real life is complicated enough. I will never understand the Facebook thing… Where does this desire to be monitored and monitor others come from? I’m sorry, but it’s creepy and juvenile.

  22. A great discussion: http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-privacy/

    Add them to a tagged “Professional” grouping, and make sure your professional tagged friends do not see personal updates.

  23. I was going to suggest the privacy settings/separate lists idea as well, but I’m glad to see someone already got to it. I would recommend, however, periodically checking the privacy settings on facebook. (I check it about every two to three months.) They usually add new features of what can be controlled in terms of privacy, but they don’t publicize these changes. Some people have been on Facebook forever, but are just learning about creating separate friends’ list and monitoring privacy based on those.

    E: I was in college when Facebook first started. In fact, originally it was exclusive to a just a few of the Ivy Leagues and Big Ten schools, and my school was included. Later, they expanded to different countries, high schools, workplaces, etc. I’ve deleted my account once before, but returned because it is a good device for networking and re-connecting with old friends. Whereas before, I had no idea where some of my closest friends from grade school or high school ended up, now I know where they’re living and have been able to go and visit them, meet their spouses and their kids. Also, for a certain age group (anyone below 30, maybe?). Facebook is almost a requirement socially. And the event-organizing features are a godsend for law school student orgs.

  24. I don’t see what the big deal is, I think she should just accept him as a friend. Is Facebook really such an important part of her life that she needs to guard it so jealously? It’s just a website. Maybe this person needs new hobbies.

  25. No question – add him with a limited profile, including only your work/education/favorite quotes sections. No need to stress about it – he’s not going to think twice about why there aren’t any stupid pics of you.

  26. My husband is in his late 40’s, and runs a law firm with about 14 people who are all younger than him. Nearly everyone in the firm is an active Facebook user. He’s told them that he’ll never ask them to be his FB friend, but if they ask him, he’ll accept. He also promised not to hold it against anyone who didn’t ask.

    The only time there was ever an issue in the office had nothing to do with him. One of the younger women decided to unfriend everyone, since she felt like her political views weren’t in synch with what others were posting on Facebook.

    Anyway, I know this doesn’t directly answer your question, but I think that it’d be better if subordinates asked the boss to be a friend, instead of the boss asking the subordinate.

  27. to E: I used to agree, but I work in politics and found that nearly everyone in this city who I worked with (regardles of age) was on Facebook and that I was missing out on a whole undercurrent of communication by not being a part of it. Additionally, the work is fueled by positioning and gossip, and I am not one for hitting the after-reception bar scene to participate in this. Facebook has been a tool I’ve carefully used to firmly entrench my professional reputation as a dull suburbanite – a happily married mother who enjoys posting articles about policy and gardening – which is fine w/me.

  28. Oftentimes we have to play to office politics even when we don’t want to– obviously in this case, he wants to be “facebook friends” without actually being chummy in real life… not unlike those “friends” from elementary, middle and high school you barely spoke to.

    I have separate friend lists for work friends, family friends and acquaintances. I know it’s “just” a website, and even though my privacy settings are set such that no one who is not my friend can see what’s going on with me, I can never be too careful. I can control what I write on my site, but a drunk/incriminating wall post from a friend or a questionable photo tagging could offend certain friends/colleagues/relatives more than others.

    I have thought about eliminating wall posts and viewable photo tagging altogether, but it takes away from the fun of actually having a facebook. So now those fun parts are only viewable by close friends. That’s not to say that colleagues, relatives, or friends might not someday cross over into the realm of close friends. Those lists can be amended anytime you choose.

  29. Friending your boss (or other colleagues maybe) on Facebook is a RGE – Resume Generating Event. Gotta have somewhere 2 vent!

  30. I’m almost convinced. But I just don’t think I’ll do it–and I’m only 25, so most of my friends and aquaintances have been involved in Facebook for years. I have definitely caught flack for not participating, and it’s helpful to see the viewpoints of other professionals utilizing this as a tool.

    I would consider myself to be very social, and am someone who goes out of the way to maintain contact with others, but I jealously guard my privacy and my time away from work. Is this something I’m just going to have to get over, lest I be left in the dust??? Or is it okay to take a stand and stay out of it? I can’t help it; I just really hate the idea…

  31. Corporette, thanks for the great topic! I posted my thoughts on this topic on my blog: http://jobbound.com/blog/entry/should-you-friend-your-boss-on-facebook

    An excerpt:
    “I recommend a healthy dose of caution coupled with some discretion. You should never put anything online that you wouldn’t want your kids, boss, or 80 year-old grandma to see. The fact is, even with privacy settings, anything you put online is in a “public forum” (meaning it can be copied, saved, and shared). That doesn’t even account for the risk of security breaches or errors that cause your “invisible page” to suddenly become available to the world.”

  32. Anonymous :

    I would accept the friend request, I guess I’m comfortable with who I am and my position at my firm.

  33. Please, please, please everyone listen to Peg’s advice and do NOT explain anything in person. This is work, and Oprah-style rules about setting boundaries and honest discussion and “This is what I feel,” will just make things very uncomfortable.

    It’s healthy to set boundaries and be honest and communicate with your friends, but it’s so important to remember that the people you work with are NOT your friends. Different rules apply.

  34. Anonymous :

    I use different privacy settings.

    I block my professional contacts from seeing my status updates. That’s where I’m most likely to reference political things, drinking, guilty pleasures like TV shows I’m watching, etc. Because not everyone updates their status, they won’t know that I’m hiding something. This also keeps my professional contacts from seeing how often I’m actually on the site.

    As for my wall, I have a couple friends who are likely to write obnoxious things that could embarass me. I have blocked them from my accessing my wall. My other friends I trust to keep things civil or rarely write things on my wall anyway.

    My friends all know better than to tag me in embarrassing photos. If yours don’t, get new friends or block your professional contacts from the photos too. (Or all albums except for basic ones, like your pets or your wedding.) Not everyone puts photos on Facebook, so again, you won’t look like you are hiding stuff.

    So, obnoxious friends can comment on my status. Professional people get to see the wall, and not think I’m hiding something.

    It’s a good balance.

  35. THIS IS GREAT CASE STUDY ON WHY SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES AREN’T REALLY WORTH IT. Do the benefits really outweigh the potential for complication?

  36. I use different privacy settings.

    I block my professional contacts from seeing my status updates. That’s where I’m most likely to reference political things, drinking, guilty pleasures like TV shows I’m watching, etc. Because not everyone updates their status, they won’t know that I’m hiding something. This also keeps my professional contacts from seeing how often I’m actually on the site.

    As for my wall, I have a couple friends who are likely to write obnoxious things that could embarass me. I have blocked them from my accessing my wall. My other friends I trust to keep things civil or rarely write things on my wall anyway.

    My friends all know better than to tag me in embarrassing photos. If yours don’t, get new friends or block your professional contacts from the photos too. (Or all albums except for basic ones, like your pets or your wedding.) Not everyone puts photos on Facebook, so again, you won’t look like you are hiding stuff.

    So, obnoxious friends can comment on my status. Professional people get to see the wall, and not think I’m hiding something.

    It’s a good balance.

  37. lawgirrrl :

    Firms want some limited personality to come through. I added the partners to my friends list, but limit what I’m willing to have on my page. No religious/political info, no photos where I have a drink in my hand, and no ‘fessing up to my gossip girl or harry potter obsessions.

  38. jrassociate :

    I was taken aback when one of the partners tried to “friend” me, but I then thought, hmm, if there’s something I don’t want him to see, I probably shouldn’t be posting it for all my other Facebook “friends” to see. i.e., (1) I have a duty to my employer not to post things that would embarrass them, and (2) If it puts my professionalism in doubt, it’s a bad idea to post it for my recent law school classmates all over the country to read. So, I accepted the partner’s friend request and toned down my postings by about 5%.

  39. Is this for real? Just accept him. Jeez. I had no idea people were so uptight about their Facebook. What are you, 40 years old?

  40. You want for real? – I inadvertently invited my complete contact list, on what I still believe is either a virus or bug – bottom line – 5500 people invited. Government officials from countries around the world, old bosses, CEOs galore… yep…. where does the etiquette start in that scenario… employees, old employees, old girlfriends, psychos, ex-wife’s gynocologist…. yada yada… I kid you not… And it gets better, because after the first round of invites is sent, Facebook then…. yes, wait for it….., automatically re-invites the no-shows… but all is not lost, they say they do not utilize fax numbers yet (i.e., 2 emails with no response, and then they will start sending fax invites… ). Yikes…

  41. I’d accept and then quietly “unfriend” him after a few weeks. He’ll never notice!

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  1. […] colleagues? What do you do when your superior sends you a request? We haven’t talked about Facebook and bosses for a long time, so I thought we’d revisit. While there are still a ton of amusing stories of […]