Ask Carla: Facebook Dilemma

Dear Ask Carla,

I have a crazy situation. I work in a small business and have a great relationship with my supervisor. She is really cool and has become one of my mentors and advisors. I love working with her. Here is the problem! She sent a friend request to me on Facebook. I don’t want to friend her because I don’t think she would be too pleased with some of my activities and I just don’t want to be involved with her like that. How do I not accept the friend request and not damage our relationship? We are about the same age; we know some of the same people, and hiding from her on social media won’t work (I can’t just block her and say I’m no longer on Facebook).  HELP! I have to do something quick. I told her I was taking a social media break so I haven’t seen her friend request!


I am cringing as I read your dilemma. Unfortunately, I am guilty of developing online relationships with my staff, only to have to go back and delete the online affiliation when things get a bit uncomfortable in the office. As technology evolves and becomes more and more a part of our social lives, the rules are ever changing and the notion of “privacy” is becoming more and more nonexistent. Nothing you post online (on a computer, cell phone, tablet or other device) is ever, ever private. No privacy settings, firewalls or rules will protect you if someone shares your Facebook status, screenshots your SnapChat or forwards your text message.  Even more frightening is that people have been fired for Facebook posts and it’s not just Facebook where you have to be careful; video and photographs of employees in “private” time have also been cause for termination.

“All the world’s a stage” is the phrase that begins a monologue from William Shakespeare‘s As You Like It. Do you think he had a crystal ball when he wrote those words?  With camera phones and video everywhere, all the world has truly become a stage! With that said, what do you do?

First things first, check your Employee Policies and Procedures Manual. Many companies are developing guidelines and standards for social media. Be sure to look over existing policies before engaging with colleagues and employers online.

If you don’t find your answers in your Employee Manual; I have three different strategies you can use to rescue you from your dilemma. One, you can change your Facebook into a professional social platform. Two, you can utilize Facebook’s privacy tools or three, you can refuse the friend requests politely.

For the first option, simply use Facebook as you would normally use LinkedIn (LNKD), a business profile that puts your best foot forward. However, before you accept that friend request, make sure that you delete all negative posts about your work, including the complaints about your co-workers and the supervisors. Also, you need to be careful with other posts that could reflect poorly on you as a professional, such as those involving extreme opinions or profanity.

After accepting the requests, you only post texts or pictures relating to your professional life. Try not to get involved in any potentially contentious subjects such as religion, sex, or politics. Occasionally, you can post a few family pictures, or some funny articles.  It gives the profile a touch of personality, but you’re still carefully controlling your online image.

The second strategy involves utilizing Facebook’s privacy settings. Maintaining your Facebook profile as a professional account will take lots of effort and could ultimately remove the fun of having a Facebook profile, and you could still miss something that ends up affecting your career negatively. That’s why you may want to utilize Facebook’s privacy settings. In the “Blocking” section, Facebook allows users to make their own “restricted list,” allowing you to control who can see your pictures and posts and Facebook does not notify people that their access has been restricted.

The third option really depends on what kind of person your supervisor is. If the relationship is strong, you may be able to just talk to your boss politely about the friend request, indicating that your Facebook is for intimate friends and family members. If your boss doesn’t take Facebook too seriously, they may take no issue with backing off and respecting your privacy. However, if your boss is the sort of person who’s going to take it personally if you ask for some space, stick to those first two options.

If you decide to go with the third option, I’d suggest that you e-mail your boss and tell her that you’re happy to connect via LinkedIn, the professional networking service, but that you prefer to reserve Facebook for your personal life.

Last thought, you could move to Oregon, one of nearly a dozen states that prohibit employers from “compelling” or even “requesting” their workers to friend or “like” them.

Carla Lane is President and Chief Executive Officer of LaneStaffing, Inc. a multimillion dollar employment solution provider headquartered in Houston, Texas. She is also founder of This Woman’s Work, Inc. a non-profit organization that empowers women and girls by giving them access to career opportunities, programs and long-lasting mentoring relationships. Send your questions to carla@askcarla.net.

The statements in the preceding article are for informational purposes only and are the opinions of the author. They are not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.