Facebook: Should Managers Friend Employees?

Facebook logo with link to Plugged In Recruiter

Updated January 2013

Social networking is a great way to stay connected.  It’s a handy way to share information, birth announcements, illness updates, meet-up plans…  The question is, are all online relationships appropriate for work and should managers invite their direct reports as friends on Facebook?  There are no hard and fast rules.  In this post I’ll share my experiences and a recent B.C. Labour Relations Board ruling.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do the first time a client sent me a friend request on Facebook — but after some thought, I decided to accept the request.  Turns out, that was a good decision. I’ve gotten to know quite a number of clients and colleagues – and sometimes their family members – in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had I not accepted. Soon after that, I widened out and began friending everyone I knew including people at my company.  Over time I realized that I might be putting some people in an awkward spot. My policy now is that I accept all invitations from people at my company but I don’t initiate invitations to anyone who is junior to me because I don’t want them to feel obligated to accept.  I did make an exception once so that I could give someone admin access to our corporate Facebook page. That created an unpleasant experience – leading me to recommit to my initial policy.

There are other reasons managers might want to reconsider friending employees on Facebook. Some employment lawyers recommend against it as management may learn something about the employee they don’t have the right to know.  Then if the employee is terminated or laid off, there could be a claim that they were released as a result of something personal that was revealed on Facebook. Examples of this might be political views, religion or sexual preference.

And then there’s the uncomfortable task of stepping in to uphold the corporate reputation in the face of inappropriate comments.  This comes up more often than you might think; not because there are lots of bad workers out there but because of two major misconceptions. The first misconception is that social media is part of the private world and business leaders have no right to comment on what is said on Facebook. Wrong. Social media sites are considered public places. Making statements on Facebook is exactly the same as publishing a notice in a newspaper.  The second misconception is that posting work-related comments as a private citizen after hours is somehow different — exempt even — from daytime or work hours expectations. Wrong again. If it’s harmful to the business or to someone who works in the business, the harm is not eliminated by creating the comment after hours.

I had to deal with this myself when a temporary worker posted something very nasty about the management where he was working. Apparently he forgot that this manager was connected to him on Facebook and could see his disrespectful comment. He ended up being removed from a long-term assignment that paid $5 – $6 dollars above the average hourly pay rate and lost his opportunity to be the next one hired on as a permanent employee. What seemed snarky and funny at the moment triggered a series of unintended consequences as the client company felt that not taking swift action would send a weak and negative message to all the other employees who were privy to the Facebook comments.

What do the courts and tribunals say? In West Coast Mazda (d.b.a. West Coast Detail and Accessory Centre) and UFCW Local 1518, the B.C. Labour Relations Board ruled that the termination of two workers due to comments posted on Facebook were justifiable grounds for termination with cause. The ruling cites the combined Facebook audience of the workers in question as one of its deciding factors. The Labour Board also stated that derogatory comments made about management constitute insubordination. If you’re curious about the case, read Employees Fired For Facebook Postings.

Is friending direct reports a good idea? That’s up to each of us to decide. What do you think?


“If you’re going through hell, keep going”

Churchill after his speech to the Parliament of Canada in December of 1941

The title of this post is a quotation from Winston Churchill.

Great words, those.  And not the action that everyone would choose to take.  It’s easier to hunker down in a comfy chair for a proper pity party.  While there’s nothing wrong with seeking a little empathy, freezing in place is not going to make things any better and certainly won’t generate forward movement.

Winston Churchill was no stranger to overcoming difficulties.  Prior to the successful leadership he applied during World War II, he upheld unpopular views on numerous occasions and at least twice believed his political career was over.  He fought depression throughout his life.  His name for it was the “black dog”.

Overcoming adversity builds resilience.  Pick your battles and fight like hell.

The Weight of Success (or “where did all this paper come from?”)

The paperless office.   I’ve been waiting for its arrival since the advent of the word processor in the early 1980’s.  I so admire those sleek business travelers sitting next to me on the plane with nothing but a tiny iPad or Netbook while I balance my 8 pound laptop and 3 floppy paper files on my knees.

Paper is seductive.  There is something satisfyingly concrete about poring over printed financial reports — the paper just waiting for your tiny notations in the margins, so accepting of the bright yellow highlighter poised over its surface.

A reasonable compromise.  This year I started scanning my handwritten meeting notes to be saved as digital files.  Once inserted in an Excel workbook it’s easy to add notations and even hyperlinks to other files.  I can’t seem to make the transition for other documents.  As a mobile worker, this is a problem.  Five years ago I switched to a briefcase on wheels — which is not unlike a hoarder renting extra storage space instead of dealing with the real problem: too much stuff.

Wednesday is “cold turkey” day.  I think I can do this if I take it one day at a time.  On Wednesday I will carry no paper. So if you see me lugging my laptop into Starbuck’s, give me a smile and a nod.  And hide your paper.

Secure Your Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others

Each time I hear this pre-flight safety admonition I am reminded how appropriate it is as advice to leaders.  We can’t serve our teams or create great results if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, change your mind.  If you don’t, you’re simply ducking your responsibilities.”   ~Ann Richards

5 Ways To Secure Your Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others

1.  Get sufficient rest.  See what Arianna Huffington and Martha Stewart have to say about sleeping your way to the top.

2. Nourish your body well.  It’s insane to expect top performance while taking in garbage.

3.  Maintain a reliable system to capture deliverables.  This will allow you to enjoy down time without those nagging feelings that you’re missing something.

4.  Exercise to reduce stress and build cardiac health.

5.  Celebrate your personal daily wins – and don’t let them be overshadowed by the yet-undone goals of the future.

Additional resources:

4 Simple Ways To Take Care Of Yourself When Working Long Hours

Benefits Of Exercise Are Even Bigger Than Thought, Doctor Finds


Just Say It – Don’t Make Them Guess

It’s a novice move we’ve all been guilty of.  Instead of making a clear request we drop subtle hints.   We tell ourselves it feels more gentle… even mannerly.  Not so.  To put it in harsh terms: sacrificing clarity to avoid conflict is a cowardly play that is far easier on the hinter then the hintee

Take time to distill your message to crystal clarity – and then go ahead and deliver it respectfully and with heart.

If you make them guess what’s on your mind don’t be disappointed when their guess doesn’t match your intended message.