Should You Friend Your Boss on Facebook?

Should You Friend Your Boss on Facebook?

New Survey Underscores Line Between Professional and Personal

By Upasana Gupta, April 4, 2012.
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Should you accept a Facebook friend request from your boss? And if you don't accept the invitation, could that decision possibly hurt your career?

According to a new survey of 1,000 U.S. residents by Russell Herder, a marketing firm in Minneapolis, many professionals now find themselves faced with this dilemma, which often challenges their definition of the boundary between personal and professional lives.

 Each of us has differing perspectives on the distinction between our personal and professional lives. 

There is no black-and-white answer. Each of us has differing perspectives on the distinction between our personal and professional lives. The survey, "Making the Connection: How Facebook is Changing the Supervisory Relationship," finds that 26 percent of younger workers (age 18 to 34) are more likely to be Facebook friends, compared to just 10 percent of those 35 or older. Also, 38 percent of survey respondents indicate their bosses initiated the relationship, and nearly 30 percent felt pressured to accept these invitations from their bosses.

I belong to the group that believes it is inappropriate for a manager to be Facebook friends with someone they supervise. To me, this would violate my personal and social privacy and lead to ambiguity in the relationship.

Interestingly, I raised this topic with a few of our advisory board members, and their take is similar. As IT security practitioners, they believe in a sharp separation between personal and professional lives and use Facebook only to connect with very close friends and family.

"I would be suspicious of an employer that demanded or pushed to be a Facebook friend when our relationship is strictly professional," says Kent Anderson, CEO of Encurve LLC, an IT risk and management services company. "I would question the underlying motivation and consider it a violation of personal privacy."

Brian Dean, a privacy officer with Secure State, an IT security consultancy, says, "There are plenty of opportunities to cross that line, e.g., dinner out while traveling, but Facebook would not be appropriate."

However, as the survey indicates, some members of the younger generations do find an upside to accepting their supervisor's friend request. Ravi Kumar, a recent cybersecurity graduate from Polytechnic Institute of New York State University, is working for a global IT consulting company and is connected with his direct supervisor on Facebook. "I view my supervisor as my friend, and getting to know him better will likely help advance my career," he says.

So, given these differences of opinion, how does one handle the boss's invitation? And if you do not accept your supervisor's invite, can that decision hurt your career?

John Rossi, a former professor of information assurance at the National Defense University, says, "If my boss asked that I friend him on Facebook, I would probably suggest that we connect through LinkedIn." He further adds, "It would not hurt my career, as I would be very gracious and respectful when I suggest LinkedIn as an alternative to Facebook."

Of course, accepting the invite could have an impact, too, depending on what type of personal information the boss then is exposed to about you and your social circle.

"The downstream manifestations of data a manager gleans from Facebook may reflect negatively on you," Dean says. "The risk outweighs the rewards, and as such I would not accept the Facebook request and would not ask that of my staff."

This is serious stuff and therefore important for employees to review whom they friend on Facebook and whether workplace invitations are appropriate to accept on a personal platform.

As an IT security practitioner, would you accept a Facebook friend request from your boss? Why or why not?

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