Navigating Facebook – Etiquette at Work

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Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest— social media has clearly revolutionized the way we communicate. We can reconnect with high school friends, send 140-character messages to celebrities and rally hundreds of people behind an issue in mere seconds. We all have new platforms to share ideas, photos and memories in real-time with almost anyone on the planet. But, repercussions accompany these new capabilities.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen an Olympic athlete and political campaign aide severely punished for poor communication choices delivered via social media. And employees have lost their jobs due to questionable blog posts and Instagram photos. This begs several questions: Where does social media fit in the workplace? How do employees feel about befriending bosses and colleagues on Facebook? And how should organizations construct and enforce social media policies?

In an effort to answer these questions, more than 800 employees were surveyed on the subject of Facebook etiquette at work. It was found that Facebook is a mixed bag of risk and reward. Employees who share personal information and opinions on Navigating Facebook are indeed in danger of risking job security and jeopardizing workplace relationships. Nearly one in three employees have witnessed or know of a coworker reprimanded for an inappropriate Facebook post. Employees may also risk tarnishing their professional reputations, with 40 percent engaging in some form of inappropriate communication with colleagues on Facebook, including gossiping or flirting.

The social network doesn’t appear to help foster camaraderie in the office either, as 51.1 percent of employees claim Facebook is ineffective at enhancing work relationships. Of those respondents, 16.3 percent noted that shared opinions have caused loss of respect for coworkers. In addition, 53.2 percent of employees feel uncomfortable accepting a friend request from a manager and 17.9 percent say that coworkers’ sharing of personal information is uncomfortable.

The survey did highlight some positive aspects of Facebook use at work, notably that 60 percent of millennials believe it helps build relationships with colleagues. A silver lining to the social network is that younger employees find Facebook a teambuilding experience, even if their older coworkers do not. Generation Y is nearly 15 percent more likely to consider it “appropriate” to friend coworkers and are 13 percent less likely to feel “very comfortable” accepting a friend request from a manager.

While millennials do seem to value Facebook more than older colleagues, it’s interesting to note that the opinions of the two generations are not more extreme. For example, 34.8 percent of employees 34 years and older feel “very uncomfortable” befriending a manager, compared to 21.6 percent of Generation Y. Isn’t it a little surprising that the overall consensus is basically the same? It seems like we’re always focusing on generational differences in the office, but Facebook seems to highlight the fact that we’re not all that different, which means we should be able to collectively approach Facebook use at work, rather than baby boomers versus millennials.

Facebook, like most technologies, has its pros and cons. But it’s clearly not going anywhere anytime soon. Our evolving smartphone-connected, social mediainfused world has spilled over into the workplace. Organizations should think very carefully about any policies they plan to implement as the extremes—a social media free-for-all, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, an outright ban—are both fraught with issues.

Ignoring Facebook use at work and/or trying to implement a Facebook ban will likely fail. Here’s why: First, 68.4 percent of employees believe Facebook should not be forbidden at work. They’ll find a way to use it, most likely via their personal smartphones, and will resent the fact that their employer doesn’t trust them enough to access the social media network in a professional manner. Second, avoiding a conversation about Facebook will only result in unclear expectations, discomfort and tension among the staff.

There’s no right or wrong way to handle Facebook etiquette at work. It depends on many factors, including your employees‘ opinions, the company culture, the level of transparency in the office and workplace relationships. That being said, one thing remains true for all organizations: You must have a conversation about Facebook and work together as a team to set guidelines on what is and is not acceptable behavior. All employees should be involved in the decision-making process, and you should encourage diverse perspectives. Solicit everyone’s feedback and arrive at a plan that best makes sense for your specific organization.

To get you started, here are three general areas you should explore to navigate and clarify Facebook use at work:

  • Friend requesting: Do employees feel comfortable being Facebook friends with managers? Should supervisors refrain from sending friend requests to employees?
  • Sharing of personal information and opinions: What is and is not appropriate to share on Facebook? Will there be repercussions for posting inappropriate photos or comments? If so, what are these consequences? Are there policy inconsistencies between what is acceptable speech in the office and what is posted on Facebook?
  • Time spent on Facebook: What are acceptable time limits for personal Facebook usage each day, week or month? Can employees be permitted free rein during breaks, at lunch and before or after established office hours?

While these conversations will address the fundamental aspects of Facebook, it’s also important to discuss how social media fits into a long-term, companywide strategy. For example, social media allows information to be broadcasted immediately and with full transparency. What does this mean for how company news will be communicated? And what happens when company information is broadcasted before you have a chance to sit down with employees to share the news in person?

The fact that social media allows for immediacy is important, but it can sometimes set an unrealistic expectation regarding the speed of internal communication. You should deliver news to employees within a predetermined timeframe and perhaps not the second something happens.

Given that, employees do deserve transparency. They’ll find out the truth eventually and when they get their information online instead of from you, your reputation will be shot. Try to be aware of what’s being said on social media channels and to make sure employees are one step ahead of announcements made on Twitter and Facebook. Delivering company news in person to staff will enrich relationships and build trust, and employees will feel like they matter and are appreciated.

Social media has steadily ingrained itself into our daily lives, and the workplace is no exception. In fact, Facebook use at the office is nearly ubiquitous, with more than eight out of every 10 employees logging onto the social networking site. Despite its almost universal adoption, more than half of all organizations—51.6 percent— have no social media policy. Smart organizations are now considering guidelines that establish clear social networking policies for employees to follow. Smarter organizations are fostering frequent, honest conversations about what is and is not acceptable behavior to best manage relationships online and offline.

About Halley Bock 1 Article
Halley Bock is the CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training company based in Seattle that drives results for businesses by improving workplace communication.

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