Thursday, January 19, 2012

“Friending” co-workers depends on your level of organizational risk tolerance

On Time Magazine’s Moneyland Blog, Dan Schawbel asks the following questions: “Is it a bad idea to friend co-workers on Facebook? How about your boss?” In his post, Mr. Schawbel discusses a recent study of 4 million Gen-Y Facebook profiles, conducted by Millennial Branding and, which found the following:

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Gen-Y Facebook users omit their employers from their profiles.
  • Only 16 out of an average Gen-Y Facebook user’s nearly 700 friends are co-workers.

From these findings, Mr. Schawbel concludes:

Gen-Y needs to be aware that what they publish online can come back to haunt them in the workplace. Gen-Y managers and co-workers have insight into their social lives, which could create an awkward workplace setting or even result in a termination.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the issues raised by co-workers connecting via social networks. Social sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be a powerful tool for added employee engagement and communication. Because of the the added connectivity, however, they also present an added risk for problems such as harassment, retaliation, and invasions of privacy. You have five options to choose from in the level of connectivity to permit for your employees. Which answer you choose will depend on how you balance the benefit of the added communication versus the risk of potential problems:

  1. Anything goes. Any employee can friend any other employee regarding of rank or position.

  2. Supervisors are prohibited from friending direct reports, but employees can friend their supervisors (who can choose whether to accept the request).

  3. Supervisors and their reports cannot be Facebook friends, regardless of who initiates the request.

  4. Employees are only permitted to be Facebook friends with their peers. No one can friend anyone higher or lower on the org chart.

  5. Employees are expressly prohibited from being Facebook friends with any co-workers, regardless of position.

Regardless of which option you choose, you should choose one to incorporate into your social media policy, and train your employees about the dangers of unfiltered online communications and the proper use of social media inside and outside of the workplace. Without the appropriate training of your employees on these new and evolving issues, you might as well not have the policy at all.