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What Do You Do When Your Boss Makes a Friend Request On Facebook?

Imagine this: you’re chatting with your friends about how terrible your job is on Facebook (FB) when suddenly a friend request pops up. It comes from your boss, the very person you were
Jianyu Zhao is a second-year journalism graduate student at the University of Southern California. He's served as Executive Producer at the Annenberg Digital News for five months. Jianyu Zhao is a citizen of China.
Jianyu Zhao is a second-year journalism graduate student at the University of Southern California. He's served as Executive Producer at the Annenberg Digital News for five months. Jianyu Zhao is a citizen of China.

Imagine this: you’re chatting with your friends about how terrible your job is on Facebook (FB) when suddenly a friend request pops up. It comes from your boss, the very person you were just using Facebook to vent about. Now you have to deal with that critical question: whether or not to accept the friend request. Say yes and and a key piece of your privacy is gone, destroying one of your only platforms to complain about your boss. Say no and you’ve just rejected a friend request from someone you work with and have to report to, something that could easily ruffle their feathers.

Before making any decisions, you may want to know why your supervisor wants to become your Facebook friend. The underlying psychology can be quite complex and varies from gender to age. For some senior supervisors, they tend to keep a congenial relationship with their young employees. Their Facebook activities can also be viewed as a trial to chase youth by being more hip and “with it.” No matter why your bosses send you friend requests, you can’t ignore them.

So, your next step is probably making a list of pros and cons for accepting, or ignoring, your boss’ friend request.

Whether Is It Necessary To Accept the Requests?

One merit for accepting that comes to your mind can be creating a solid network with your supervisors.

Most people regard Facebook as a platform for socializing with friends and online photo albums, forgetting that it can also be used to strengthen both your personal life and career. Keeping a good relationship with your boss on Facebook can be considered a long-term investment.

Suppose that your former boss is now doing great at another company. One day, your boss suddenly thinks of you and believes that you fit in a better position at his or her new company. If you’re friends on social media, it’s relatively easy for them to get a hold of you regarding the position.

In addition, accepting their friend request is a good way to know more about your boss, and vice versa. The office may not be a proper place for both you and your boss to know each other personally. In other words, the person you each know in the office is probably not the person who exists outside of it. But some people prefer revealing another side of themselves via online communication. Without being in any face-to-face conversations, employees and their supervisors are more likely to get close without feeling professional boundaries have been crossed.

However, the disadvantage is obvious as well. People who accept their boss’ friend request may feel like they’re being watched all the time. They will probably feel as though they have less online freedom and regard it as an invasion of privacy. Catching their employees who use Facebook for chatting and games during office hours is easier if you’re friends with them.

Moreover, people who lie to their boss about being sick have to be more cautious. All those hilarious photos posted on Facebook about a wild weeknight out drinking with the friends? Guess what? If your boss can see those he/she may be less inclined to believe that you’re ill with “something like the flu” the next day.

Marketing agency Russell Herder once did research on 1,000 U.S. residents to learn how age, gender, and frequency of social networking usage influenced attitudes and behaviors towards the decision to connect with one’s supervisor online. According to the research, only 21% employees are Facebook friends with their work supervisors. Of that 21%, 53% say that they used the social platform to communicate in a professional context. The research also demonstrated that 46% employees initiated the friend requests, while 38% came from the supervisors.

Russell Herder CEO Carol Russell thinks that the research insights can be recognized in most employment environment.

“Social media platform provide both unique and complicated opportunities in a professional environment,” said Russell. “The research emphasizes the importance of having a written social media policy, defining appropriate boundaries, and applying standards universally to all employees.”

Solutions That May Help You

It’s hard to find clear boundaries between your personal life and career life after accepting your boss’ friend request. For some supervisors, Facebook may represent another tool for exerting control over their employees. Let’s say your supervisor insists on being your Facebook friend. What are you supposed to do then?

Here’s three methods to rescue you from such a dilemma: changing your Facebook into a professional social platform, taking advantage of Facebook’s privacy limits, and refusing the friend requests politely.

For the first method, you can view your Facebook as one would normally use their LinkedIn (LNKD) account: a business profile that puts your best foot forward. Before you click the “Confirm” button, make sure that you delete all negative posts about your work, including the complaints about your co-workers and the bosses. Also, you need to be careful with other posts that could reflect poorly on you as a professional, such as those involving extreme opinions or profanity.

After accepting the requests, you only post texts or pictures relating to your professional life. Try not to get involved in any potentially contentious subjects such as religion, sex, or politics. Occasionally, you can post a few family pictures, or some funny articles from BuzzFeed like “30 Touching Photos Of A Baby Boy’s Adoption.” It gives the profile a touch of personality, but you’re still carefully controlling your online image.

The second strategy involves utilizing Facebook’s privacy settings. Maintaining your Facebook profile as a professional account will take lots of effort and could ultimately suck much of the joy out of having a Facebook profile, and you could still miss something that ends up affecting your career negatively. That’s why you may want to know about what you can do with those privacy settings. In the “Blocking” section, Facebook allows users to make their own “restricted list,” allowing you to control who can see your pictures and posts. And Facebook does not notify people that their access has been restricted.

Comparing to these two methods, the third option really depends on what kind of person your supervisor is. If the relationship is strong, you may be able to just talk to your boss politely about the friend request, indicating that your Facebook is for intimate friends and family members. If your boss doesn’t treat Facebook too seriously, they may take no issue with backing off and respecting your privacy. However, if your boss is the sort of person who’s going to take it personally if you ask for some space, well, you’d better stick to those first two solutions.

Navigating Social Media Now a Part of Professional Life

The power of social media can’t be neglected in this day and age. Only your boss knows why he/she wants to become your Facebook, but your actions in response to that can carry weight. Knowing how to deal with the professional relationships has always a complex issue, and navigating issues with social media one more element modern times have added to the complex world of office politics. 

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