Facebook & Work: Will Friending Your Manager Help Your Career?

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Not long ago, I thought it was a bad idea to friend your boss on Facebook because of the possibility that revealing too much could hurt your progress at your current job, as well as any future opportunities. Lately, I’ve had a slight change of heart.

In recent months, I’ve asked my Facebook friends and subscribers if they’ve friended their managers on Facebook. For those who answered yes, I asked about how Facebook relationships with the bosses have changed things in the workplace, if at all. Of the people who are Facebook friends with their managers, more say they’ve had a positive experience with these relationships over a negative one. Through Facebook, they had a stronger relationship with management and coworkers. They were actually more cautious about what they posted too, and report that their careers have advanced as a result.

I was interviewed in a Washington Post article exploring whether it’s a good or bad idea to friend your boss on Facebook. For the most part, I now think that a Facebook relationship with your boss can be beneficial.

I also firmly believe that in the future, the workplace and society as a whole will be completely transparent, and it will become more natural to communicate with the people you work with on your social network accounts. I believe this trend will be driven in large part by Gen Y, who will comprise the majority of the workforce in the next ten years. They are used to over-sharing and are more understanding of what their peers are doing online. I’ve changed my view because I believe the more connected you are, the more effective you are in networking, keeping in touch, and showcasing the personal aspects of your life. In the past, I felt that mixing your personal and professional identities could be harmful to your career. Today, however, I feel that people are more careful with their updates. We’re more aware that what we post can be seen by almost anyone, including others who are in a position to hurt or help our careers.

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There are still many who shy away from developing relationships with their managers on Facebook. In a survey conducted for Liberty Mutual, 54% of Facebook users believe that it is irresponsible to friend request your boss. Another study by Russell Herder found that 26% of employees are currently friends with their managers — and 38% of younger workers said that their bosses initiated the relationship by adding them as a friend, with 29% feeling pressured to accept a friend request. (Even if you’d prefer to say no, for the sake of your career it’s probably best to accept.)

Everyone’s individual circumstances are different, and there are still situations in which it would be unwise to become Facebook friends with the boss. Three such situations are below, after three scenarios in which you probably should go ahead and friend your manager.

When You Should Friend Your Manager
1. If you already have a great relationship with your boss. David Trahan, a consultant at Interbrand, hit it off right away with his older boss because, in addition to working well on projects, they share similar interests outside of work. He became Facebook friends with her soon after getting hired, and after four months, Trahan switched into a new role on her team reporting directly to her — and he thinks the new role came about at least partly because he connected with his boss on Facebook. “It’s a hard balance to be friends with your boss, but Facebook actually makes it easier, because it’s an opportunity to engage with her outside of work-related social events, which are usually drinking,” he says. Managers want to work with people they like, not just those who can get the job done.

2. If you’re trying to be more careful about what you post. The idea here is that you’ll be smart about how you use Facebook if you know your boss is watching. Justin Orkin, a sales executive at AOL, was initially reluctant to add his manager as a friend on Facebook because he had always kept his personal and professional lives separate. Eventually, they connected on Facebook, and since then, he’s been more careful about how he uses the platform. He thought twice about what he posted, knowing that he wanted to leave a strong impression with his manager. Doing so can help your career now, and down the line as well, since anything you post could be seen years afterward. “Adding my manager on FB actually instantly matured me,” he says.

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3. If it helps you get your job done better. Stephen Coley and Jenn Lisak, both of whom work as developers at DK New Media, feel that Facebook is an outlet to share what they are doing in a collaborative setting. It fosters a closer relationship, and also helps produce better work. They also say they have become more productive and are more engaged in their work because of their connection to their manager, who can see what they’re up to and weigh in from time to time.

When You Shouldn’t Friend Your Manager
1. If you don’t know your manager well. If you add your manager as a friend too quickly, without building a trusting relationship first, it might turn them off. During your first few months on the job, you’re still proving yourself to your boss, gaining his or her trust, and establishing credibility. If you rush into a Facebook relationship, your manager may think differently about how you work and portray yourself, which could factor into how your overall job performance is perceived. Some bosses may want boundaries between their work relationships and personal lives, and it’s not a good idea to put your manager in an awkward spot by friending her when she’d rather keep everything strictly professional.

2. If you’re just using Facebook for family and friends. More and more people are using Facebook for professional uses. For instance, 52% of job seekers use Facebook to help find work. But plenty of people still want Facebook just for keeping up with family and friend-friends — not “work friends.” In this case, you won’t want to add your manager because you’re already using Facebook more casually and don’t want to have to change your language and what you share. If you choose to go this way, explain to your manager and the people you work with that you’re just using Facebook for your personal life. They should respect your decision (though they might be curious about what you’re trying to hide).

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3. If you’re worried it could hurt your job. It’s important to know who you are, and how others perceive you — both in person and online. You shouldn’t be surprised if people are turned off by posts that include your political views, let alone racist, sexist, or vulgar comments. It’s commonplace to gripe about work, but obviously it’s a terrible idea to complain about your manager or company on Facebook, especially if you’re connected to your boss or coworkers via social media. If you’re concerned that what you post could put your job in jeopardy, don’t even bother trying to become friends with the boss on Facebook.

Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career expert and the founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting company. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to my updates: Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.