Should You Send a Facebook Friend Request to a Coworker?
The art of mixing personal and professional relationships.
Posted Jul 29, 2020
Facebook has expanded opportunities for socializing and networking well beyond the boundaries of offline communication. Beyond being a great vehicle for staying connected with childhood friends and family, it is also routinely used to stay in touch with members of one’s social circle. But one question that comes up routinely is whether that should include coworkers.
Obviously, the answer to that question first depends on where you work and any applicable social media policies. But assuming it is permissible, if you like the people you work with, you probably want to connect with them on social media. Consequently, whether this means Facebook or LinkedIn, when you reach out online, you hope they accept your request.
On Facebook in particular, friending professional colleagues is different than reaching out to purely social contacts. First, consider whether you should reach out on LinkedIn instead, where you are no doubt using a professional headshot and resume. But if you want to get to know someone you work with personally, Facebook will likely be your platform of choice. Yet it is also precisely for that reason you must proceed with caution—to avoid making anyone feel like you are trying to push boundaries.
Research provides some guidance regarding the utility and propriety of mixing personal and professional online communication.
Facebooking With Coworkers and Job Satisfaction
Lei Vincent Huang and Piper Liping Liu. (2017) investigated the dynamics created by connecting online with coworkers through publicly available sites (PSNS) such as Facebook for work purposes.[i] Recognizing that people interact with coworkers on social networking sites for both personal and professional purposes, they sought to examine how these online connections contribute to virtual social capital, as well as other employee outcomes—such as job satisfaction and performance.
They defined social capital as “the sum of resources people can access from their social networks,” noting that such resources can range from information that is novel or useful, to financial or emotional support. Using an online survey, they found that coworker connections positively impacted perceptions of “work-related Facebook organizing and network utility as well as online bridging social capital.” They found that employees' online bonding social capital was linked with job satisfaction, and the process of bridging virtual social capital positively impacted job performance.
Assuming you have decided that sending a Facebook friend request to someone you work with is both appropriate and acceptable, the question becomes: How do you send a request they are likely to accept?
Professionals Offline Are Professionals Online
On Facebook, just like in real life, first impressions matter. This appears to be true even when receiving a request from someone you already know—which is most often the case on this particular platform. Consider why this may be true.
If you are a white-collar executive who has never been spotted in the office wearing anything but a grey suit and tie, a Facebook profile photo of you in casual clothing could be endearing; while a photo of you in a bathing suit might be off-putting as strikingly inappropriate—given the contrast. Similarly, if your identity is tied to your professional practice or proficiency, you should avoid a cover image that detracts from your credibility by portraying you in an undesirable light, whether in terms of competence or character.
You also want to avoid all of the usual content warnings that give others pause when viewing online profiles, from the overly political to the provocative. But research indicates that another factor people consider in deciding whether or not to accept your request is how they get along with you offline.
Good Communication Builds Good Friendships
Bethany D. Frampton and Jeffrey T. Child (2013) examined what types of factors coworkers consider when responding to friend requests from colleagues.[ii] Using Communication Privacy Management (CPM) theory as a framework, they had 312 individuals working full-time complete an online survey. They found that most of them accepted Facebook friend requests from coworkers. They did note, however, that their decisions to accept the requests varied depending on their organizational privacy orientation, Facebook privacy practices, and the level of satisfaction with existing communication with co-workers.
They note that their research reveals that employees who liked interacting with coworkers offline had no problem extending the “privacy boundary” to include developing a relationship with them online through Facebook as well.
Taken together, these findings indicate that connecting online involves some of the same decisions made offline in terms of the company we keep. Erring on the side of caution, choosing a photo that is attractive but appropriate, employees are probably wise to aim to collect Facebook friends who are also real friends.
[i] Huang, Lei Vincent, and Piper Liping Liu. 2017. “Ties That Work: Investigating the Relationships among Coworker Connections, Work-Related Facebook Utility, Online Social Capital, and Employee Outcomes.” Computers in Human Behavior 72 (July): 512–24. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.054.
[ii] Frampton, Bethany D., and Jeffrey T. Child. 2013. “Friend or Not to Friend: Coworker Facebook Friend Requests as an Application of Communication Privacy Management Theory.” Computers in Human Behavior 29 (6): 2257–64. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.05.006.