Friending Colleagues on Social Sites Now Less Taboo

Study reveals more mixing of personal and professional lives online

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright September 18, 2017
Friending Colleagues on Social Sites Now Less Taboo

Most people now "like" the idea of following colleagues on social networking sites—a stark contrast from reported sentiment in previous years. More senior managers, however, still have qualms about making social connections with co-workers, a new study reveals.

OfficeTeam, a staffing company based in Alexandria, Va., found that 71 percent of professionals now believe it's appropriate to friend colleagues on Facebook; slightly fewer (61 percent) feel it's OK to follow them on Twitter; 56 percent are comfortable following them on Instagram and 44 percent said they would add them on Snapchat.

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However, fewer senior managers are comfortable with connecting with people they work with on Facebook (49 percent), Twitter (34 percent), Instagram (30 percent) and Snapchat (26 percent). Their responses refer to their colleagues, not their direct reports.

OfficeTeam polled more than 1,000 U.S. workers and senior managers who work in office environments. It didn't ask senior managers about connecting on social media with people whom they manage. The study also found that workers ages 18 to 34 find it more acceptable to connect with colleagues on social media.

"While the lines between our personal and professional lives continue to blur, not everyone's comfortable connecting with colleagues on digital channels," said Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam. She said it's "understandable HR professionals would still have some concerns about employees friending their colleagues on Facebook. Individuals should be mindful of what information they're sharing online and with whom."

Katrina Collier, a social media recruitment specialist who runs The Searchologist web recruiting portal from London, told SHRM Online in an interview on Instagram that "fundamentally, people are turning to Facebook [and other social sites to communicate] because it's active and our lives aren't split in two. We take home to work and work home, so we need a space for both."

Britton added that while "interacting with colleagues on social media can help build stronger relationships … it should be done with care. You might not want to share everything with work friends that you would with closer personal contacts."

Opinions about friending colleagues on social sites has often been debated by HR professionals. Last year, Chelsea Wheeler posed the question, "Do any of you accept friend requests on social media from employees?" to the HR Department of One group on SHRM Connect, the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) online community. Wheeler is an HR director at Cuisine Unlimited in Salt Lake City.

Responses varied: Some said it was perfectly fine to accept friend requests from employees but to "tread lightly," while others suggested connecting solely on LinkedIn. Some who posted raised concerns about connecting on Facebook, believing that retaining those social connections after a promotion, for example, could lead to other problems such as finding out too much information about employees or being accused of favoritism or impropriety.

But others say attitudes and behaviors have changed in recent years.

 "People are now a lot savvier about social media than they were 10 or five or even two years ago," said Ryan Namata, senior specialist, Chief Human Resource Executive Engagement, for HR People + Strategy, an affiliate of SHRM, in an interview on Facebook Messenger. "People still play beer pong until they pass out, they just don't post it on Facebook anymore."  

People still need to exercise good judgment—which includes adjusting their behaviors—and their privacy settings.

"Being Facebook friends with colleagues is becoming more common, especially due to the Facebook groups, which are replacing the groups LinkedIn [eliminated]," Collier noted. "Of course, this can cause awkwardness for HR professionals who need some separation, but there are ways to handle this."

Collier suggests people use and adjust their Facebook friends lists. Her blog addresses how to handle those awkward friend requests from employees you don't want to connect with. "These [lists] allow you to choose who you share your updates with so you can keep your private stuff private." You can also "unfollow your colleagues. If you truly don't want to see what they're posting in case they incriminate themselves, simply unfollow them," she said. That can be done by going to the person's Facebook page, clicking the word "more," and selecting "unfollow."

"I think that's a little extreme and that it's 2017 and people know better by now [than to share too much personal information], but if it's worrying you, it's a great option." 


[SHRM members-only resourceHow to Use Social Media for Applicant Screening]

OfficeTeam offered the following advice for those still wondering how to navigate social media connections.


  • Add everyone you work with to your social networks.
  • Reject a co-worker's friend request.
  • Post updates or photos that reveal too much.
  • Interact with people in your network only when you need something.

  • Be selective. Don't friend everyone.
  • Explain that you prefer to connect with colleagues on LinkedIn. However, in some cases, it may be best to accept a request so you don't offend the person. Adjust your privacy settings to control what information you reveal.
  • Use your best judgment when sharing. Not everyone needs to know what you did last night, and certain topics can come across as unprofessional. Remove questionable images from your public profiles.
  • Pay it forward. Help your online contacts; show support for their personal interests. Commonalities help us bond.

    Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. She is also the author of “A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013).

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