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Tread lightly with social media at work

The power dynamic in the workplace has always been a delicate thing; from office romances to nepotism, thorny issues of fairness and appropriate behavior abound. The age of social media has only complicated things as workers and their supervisors try to navigate what interaction is acceptable and which ones cross the line.
As with most person-to-person interactions, appropriateness is often in the eye and ear of the beholder. Complimenting a co-worker's appearance is either good manners or bad judgement, depending on choice of words, frequency of said compliments and whether it makes the recipient feel uncomfortable. Getting together for drinks after work can build camaraderie among co-workers, but blur the line of authority into undue familiarity between a supervisor and his or her subordinates.
Social media is no different than these face-to-face scenarios and there exist few hard and fast rules when it comes to following (or being followed by) your boss’s Facebook or Instagram account. However, whether to friend or not to friend remains the question and a nuanced one at that.
The knee-jerk answer to employees and their bosses following each other on social media is not to do it. After all, social media is a personal forum and there are long-held advantages to maintaining boundaries between people of different ranks in the office. Not only that, but some of what people put on Facebook can color how others see them, fairly or unfairly. Risking a promotion over a kegstand photo on vacation (or something less obvious like political views or a post about your family planning) are legitimate concerns in our oversharing society.
At the same time, attitudes toward social media are different depending on the employee, the company culture and even the nature of the industry you’re in. Some employees define a good work environment as one that carries over into personal time and interests; others fear they will be viewed negatively or miss out on important networking relationships for every friend request they decline.
But let’s assume that you have made up your mind that you want to keep your social media life separate from your work life, only to get a friend request from your supervisor. How best to handle this? Here are three easy steps to consider:
Just Say No (Respectfully) – It’s often best to just rip off the band-aid and be honest. Send a quick email or text thanking them for the thought, but let them know you can’t accept due to wanting to keep your personal and professional lives separate. This works in a surprisingly large percentage of cases, without residual hard feelings.
Ignore the Request – Also an option, albeit one more likely to be perceived as rude or that you simply didn’t get the invite, which results in more invites and only furthers the problem.
Get HR involved – Most companies have a social media policy these days and almost all have some sort of personal conduct guidelines. Be advised, a note from HR tends to sting more and some companies will ask if you’ve exhausted other avenues before they will get involved. But in cases where the friend-seeker won’t stop after you’ve asked them to, this is definitely the way to go.
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