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May 26, 2010 / Melissa

Social Media

Lesson One: Separate your personal and professional life. Be aware of why you need to set the boundary and stick to it!.

I truly believe Facebook, for all of its positives, has just as many negatives. And as a 25 year old, I am amazed at how Facebook has become so engrained in our society. I am all for social media, truly, I am. Yet, South Park’s Facebook show hit everything right on. Facebook is making legitimate interpersonal communication skills almost non-existant.

I was visiting New England this past weekend (Go Sox!), and walking around places such as Harvard Square, Newbury Street, and downtown Providence and the Brown Campus, I was amazed at how much conversation I overhead that referred to Facebook. Statues, wall posts, messages, likes, comments, pokes, etc. Why are we bringing our virtual world into our personal, real-life relationships? At what point is everything on Facebook going to really be the “truth.” The saying goes if it’s on Facebook it must be true. I was recently in the Apple store and needed to show an ID to pick up my laptop. I joked that I could show the clerk my Facebook account on my Blackberry to prove my identity. We laughed about it, but truly, that is the direction the world is moving towards.

I am especially concerned with how our personal lives and professional lives seem to be converging, especially with a young person’s inability to think realistically and critically about the differences between PERSONAL and PROFESSIONAL. Career counselors preach this, but I feel young adults are missing the point. I’ve had “friends” on Facebook post their “measurements” while they are “friends” with former professors. Young girls are posting their bra colors in support of breast cancer awareness. Are people unaware of the information they are sharing with all of their so-called “friends?”

The following is my belief about Facebook and your bosses and or co-workers, a “friend” request that is guaranteed to cause needless drama if accepted.

I will readily admit that I love technology. I can’t imagine going anywhere without my laptop, iPOD or BlackBerry. However, I firmly believe that such technological advances were created to assist our hectic lives instead of impede the development of a basic tenant that has been around since the beginning of human existence – interpersonal and professional communication. While my laptop and BlackBerry make me pretty accessible to my friends, co-workers, family, cable company, and former classmates, the difficulty in this over-accessibility is setting up boundaries regarding personal availability to an entire community of people who have your cell phone number, email address, or are your friends on Facebook.

A major issue I have with accessibility via social networking sites is an assumption that my personal life transcends into the work environment because I can be reached through such methods as texting, email via my BlackBerry and Facebook. However, does your supervision of my work activities entitle you access to my Facebook information? Absoluetly not. The term “Facebook friend” is pretty broadly defined. With the ability to confirm or deny people asking my permission to see my personal information, I have the power to decide who can be my “friend.” Certainly old classmates and teammates are privy to reconnections via such a convenient method of communication and reuniting. However, many meet people randomly, look them up on Facebook immediately after a night out and magical – 12 new Facebookfriends. Some fail to realize that the definition of “Facebook friend” is different for everyone. I actually have a system for confirming or denying friends: Are you my boss or were you a supervisor at some point who would be serving as a potential reference at a later date (If yes, DENY).  After our time of in-person contact has ended, have we spoken via telephone or exchanged personal emails in the past six months (If yes, CONFIRM; if no contact and you would most likely NOT email me for a non-professional reason, then DENY. If professional, please refer to LinkedIn or my work e-email address). My Facebook is not for 89089 people I have randomly met in life since I joined FB in 2005, and it is certainly not an invitation for my boss to get all up in my personal life.

Let’s explore this a bit further shall we? I was trained as a therapist and I like to do that kind of stuff. I’ll tell you more. Do I necessarily want my boss knowing what I did this past weekend or have her privy to inside jokes with my friends or photo albums from my freshman year of college? Do I think it is appropriate for her to make reference to a Facebook status a co-worker posted in a team meeting? And, do I want to know what color her bra is even though I know she is clearly just fighting breast cancer by donating her status? No, that is why my boss is NOT my “friend” on Facebook. Yet somewhere between the interplay of accessibility via a multitude a technological advances and a blurred line of where work ends and a personal life begins manifests a whole new “work politics.”

How does one go about deciding to add your boss as a friend, or how does a boss decide to add an employee as a friend. On one hand we do all get together every so often for the occasional happy hour of office holiday party, but given that you are not a regular attendee or consultant in my activities outside of work, I’m not comfortable opening up my personal life to you to see in a virtual mayhem where no one really can control anyone else’s poor judgment or faux pas in Facebook etiquette. And what happens when your boss “friends” you, but you politely decline by clicking ignore and pretending she never attempted to be your friend. What happens when she comes into your office the next day to ask you why you didn’t confirm her as a friend on Facebook. Let me tell you: awkwardness and a delicate situation that forces one to educate a superior on the importance of healthy boundaries. I work for you, am a mere minion in a very structured organization and by HR’s standards really am not supposed to be your “friend.” Does this transcend to “virtual” friendships? Yes, yes it does. I come to work, I do my job, and am always working hard to leave my personal life at home and my work at work. I ask that you respect that. Perhaps there is variance in other workplaces, but not here.

What an interesting transition to this new phase of “work politics.” As a young professional, I suppose this comes with changing technology and the way in which we readily communicate with our friends and loved ones. My boss has my personal cell phone number and texts me quite a bit regarding work situations. Is this now an acceptable form of communication among employees of the same organization? While advances in technology seem to make meeting work demands easier, it appears that the modern workforce is now plagued with a new challenge in the workplace. – to friend, or not to friend. While such an issue may seem benign or not worth critical thought, the considerations one has to make certainly can be difficult to grapple with at times, especially in certain fields. Have we as a culture become too giving of our personal information to people we don’t even know or who previously most likely would not have had open access to our personal lives. And has that in turn led others to be offended when one chooses NOT to share their personal life with the social networking world or those we interact with in life? Or, does Facebook just make for talk around the water cooler much more interesting because I saw what you did when wasted on Saturday night, spent the holidays with your family, or went on vacation to the Caribbean before you could even tell me about it in person.

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