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July 13, 2007

Your Boss Is Not Your Friend

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I’ve been waiting all week for the calendar to say Friday so that I could have a little fun and mention this, and now the day is here. Huzzah!

Okay, so earlier this week the Washington Post had a (free) article entitled OMG – My Boss Wants to "Friend" Me On My Online Profile that touched on what to do the horrifying day that your boss tries to encroach your personal space by "friending" you online.

In the olden days, it was easy to brush off the boss. Your company would organize a group bowling day movie day, er company dinner and the employees would all regretfully tell the boss they couldn’t meet for drinks because they had prior commitments. The employees would then all secretly go to dinner themselves and talk about their loser boss. (Bruce, please note we have never done this. I’m talking about other employees at other jobs with other bosses. Like the kids that work at SEOmoz.)

However, then the Lord invented MySpace. And Facebook. And LinkedIn. Now there’s nowhere left to hide.

Employees of the world, I want to warn you. Your day will come. When you least expect it, you will innocently log into your favorite social network and there will be a friend request waiting for you. From your boss. Asking to be your social network friend. What are you going to do?

I’ve found the best way to handle this is deny, deny, deny. Pretend as if you never saw the friend request. Under no circumstances should you reject their request. They will be able to see this and you will be fired, as your boss will assume you have something to hide. Instead, you are to pretend as if you never saw the request. When your boss "jokingly" asks you if you’re ignoring their request [cue uncomfortable laughter] you are to play dumb. The correct response in this situation is:

"OMG, you sent me friend request? On [Name of Social Network]? Are you sure you spelled my name right? Those stupid computers. I never got it! Resend it!"

Now, there is a 90 percent chance (note: this number has absolutely no scientific merit) that your boss will simply forget they ever tried to friend you and you can continue to live your online life boss-free.

Be warned: there is a chance, however slight, that your boss may go back and confirm that they did in fact "friend" the right person. At this point, they’ll probably send you a message alerting you. In that case, you are to suddenly "find" the friend request and accept it. I’m sorry, my friend, but your online life is over.

You must now go through the debilitating process of sterilizing your online identity, shoving all the offending material under the bed. Goodbye college photos (or any photo where you’re holding a plastic cup). Farewell inappropriate group memberships. Sayonara foul-mouthed wall comments. The only information you should keep on your boss-appropriate social networking profile are:

Proper Name
Home Town
Current Location
Age (unless you’ve been lying about this)
Occupation (state your current job only)

Your profile photo should be gentle enough that you would feel comfortable showing it to your aging grandparents. Consider your profile now muzzled.

Unless you’re using Facebook! If you’re on Facebook, there is a way out.

On Facebook users can configure their privacy settings to control what people are allowed to see about them. (The creators have Facebook obviously had nosy bosses) You can set it so that only certain networks (those you went to college with, for example) are allowed to view photos, leave comments on your wall, view your status updates, have access to your posted items, etc. You may give networks access to as much or as little information about you as you’d like. Feel to hide personal information, screen name info, applications, or anything else contained in your profile. Once again, I recommend you set it so that your boss is only able to see the information available on your driver’s license.

You can also set up what is called a "limited profile" that allows you to determine which fields your boss or Not Friends are allowed to see. This is very handy. The only problem here is that you only have one limited profile. You can’t create separate profiles for separate groups. I can’t give my little brother access to one portion and then try and restrict the rest of my limited profile from seeing it. That’s what the privacy settings are for, so make sure you’re using everything correctly.

The Internet can be a scary place when you’re forced to invite your boss into your online home. If your boss comes a’knockin’, do your best to make it look like you’re not home. However, remember to never, ever reject a boss’s request to be your friend. This will eliminate your career advancement opportunities tremendously. Instead, invite them in and make them feel welcome. They don’t have to know they’re being confined to one very boring room. Like a puppy that can’t be trusted.

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17 responses to “Your Boss Is Not Your Friend”

  1. Rebecca Kelley writes:

    Lisa, you know we’re like a cult over at SEOmoz. We do so much stuff together it’s bordering on unhealthy. (In fact, every morning we all wake up together and have to convene and decide which pair of shoes Rand should wear. That’s why we love conference days.)

  2. Tom writes:

    lol – “Like a puppy that can’t be trusted.” Will – you listening to this?!
    Rebecca – sometimes I think that’s actually how SEOmoz operates…

  3. Jonathan Street writes:

    Any advice on what to do if an employee sends you a friend request?

  4. Lisa writes:

    Jonathan — Hmm, I think it depends. If you actually have a friendly relationship with said employee, one that is beyond the superficial “hello, how are you?”, than I say congrats! You have reached the elite status of being a nonsucky boss! Friend away!
    If you do NOT have a friendly relationship with said employee, than this is clearly an attempt to dig up dirt on you and use it to bring you down in a most embarrassing away. Limited profile this person and proceed with caution.
    Also, if you begin to sense that someone is following you out to your car late at night, RUN.

  5. Jonathan Street writes:

    Thanks for the advice Lisa.

    I should say that boss-employee wouldn’t accurately define the relationship in this case. Mentor/supervisor/slightly-more-experienced employee might be better descriptions.

    I think I’m fairly safe, if dirt digging was the intention then I suspect that my workplace ‘friends’ would gladly dish it up without any encouragement.

    Note to Bruce and/or Susan, giving random days off and the occasional 4 day weekend help. ;)

  6. Rae writes:

    Ok…
    1. So what to do if your boss was your friend before they were your boss?
    2. What to do if that boss were say, oh, I dunno, me and I knew damn well I was only being allowed to see limited profile?
    ;-)

  7. Lisa writes:

    Rae, if you’re my boss [shiver] than all of this advice goes out the window. It doesn’t matter what I show you because your Facebook profile will always be 10x more scandalous than anything I could ever come up with. :P

  8. Darren McLaughlin writes:

    Just one more reason to not have a boss.

  9. Lisa writes:

    Darren — Hmm, I’ll talk to Bruce about that and see what he thinks. :)

  10. Jennifer writes:

    DANGIT!
    I knew Robert was a big old faker!! And all this time I thought he was my friend.
    Man Lisa, way to crush my spirit. :(

  11. randfish writes:

    I think the strategy here is to say – oh, sorry, I didn’t receive it – then run, create a new profile that’s neutered and safe, and send the friend invitation to the boss from that account.

    It’s not going to work on super-savvy, SEO, social media marketer types, but with 99% of bosses, you’ll be in the clear.

    BTW – Rebecca; flip flops for that dinner party… not cool, dude.

  12. Will Critchlow writes:

    Tom – yeah, I’m listening. My employees tend to friend me. Must be ‘cos I’m great.

  13. SEO Woman writes:

    A few years ago, my boss and I both played Everquest II. It’s kinda hard to call in sick when your boss knows you were up at 2 a.m. slaying dragons.

  14. Gids writes:

    Spot on netiquette advice – thank you, but what do you do if your boss has famous friends?

  15. Daniel Sitter, Idea Seller writes:

    Boss and friend? It really depends upon the company and what kind of organization it is.

    In a larger corporate environment, the answer is no. The boss is the boss and you are the subordinate. In very small offices, the boss/owner and his few employees may indeed be quite friendly sharing common experiences and family events.

    In general, I believe that it is far better in the long run to keep personal and professional lives separate. The boss is not your friend.

    I think that Lisa has the best idea reflected in her comment!

  16. Jane writes:

    Yeah, I’m late to this one (I’ve been out of town!) but:
    1) I don’t think people can tell when you deny them on Facebook. I believe *nothing* happens.
    2) I looked Rebecca up on MySpace while I was interviewing at SEOmoz. Her incriminating photos were awesome.
    3) If you block people on Facebook, not only can they not see your profile, but you can’t see their’s. Lame, Facebook. Very very lame. Just because I don’t want bitchnuts ex-roommate looking at me doesn’t mean I don’t want to gawk at her miserable existence.
    4) If you’re Rae’s or my employee (not that I have ever had any, but for future reference), don’t mess with us on Facebook. I have dug more sneaky little holes in that site than Mark Zuckerberg will ever dream of. I had my first Facebook fix in nine days last night. It felt so good…

  17. Tanya writes:

    URGH! My boss totally added me – which would be fine if I liked the guy…

    Me and my coworkers all instantly send messages to each other “stop bad talking! He’s on here!”

    A good aspect of adding your employees is that they can no longer bad talk you, the company, or talk about other job offers they encounter ;)



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