Should managers connect with employees on social media?

Written by Mark Rowland Tuesday 01 December 2020
Does ‘friending’ staff on social media show genuine interest, or is it an invasion of privacy?

The pandemic basically threw out the rulebook for team communications, forcing us all to rely on mobile and online communications. Video calls made sense, and for some, that extended to informal groups on Slack and WhatsApp. Managers agree that staying connected to employees has been a priority in 2020 – CMI’s Management Transformed Report found that 95% of managers saw communication as the most important trait during the pandemic. A further 72% put wellbeing as their top management priority.

But questions have arisen around how far you should take this connection – particularly with regards to social media. Connecting on LinkedIn is the norm as a business networking platform, but what about Facebook? Some managers see deeper social media ‘friendships’ as a way to ensure a close-knit, supportive culture; others believe it crosses a boundary.

And that split is close. Of CMI managers that took part in a recent poll, 46% were connected with employees or their manager on Instagram, compared to 54% that were not.

We asked managers, psychologists, HR professionals and consultants what they thought about social media connections between managers and staff.

Personal social media profiles should stay personal

“I think it’s OK for personal social media profiles to stay that way,” says Alec Dobbie, CEO and co-founder, FanFinders. “So, on Facebook I wouldn’t connect with my employees unless I knew them previously or there’s a business reason to do so, I do however connect with other directors.

“I treat my social channels as a private environment and think others may too. For example, there may be photos or posts shared that I would like kept private and I imagine some of my employees share the same view. As a director, I find this approach protects both mine and my employees’ privacy without any uncomfortable questions about connecting or not.

"This isn't to say we don't take a genuine interest in employees’ life outside of work. We celebrate and commiserate where and when appropriate, either as a team or more privately, it’s just that we don't see connecting on social media necessary to do this.”

I’m connected with all my staff, but it won’t work for every business

“It depends on your values and culture,” says Charlotte Nichols, managing director of Harvey and Hugo. “We're a very friendly, family orientated business, and it’s a small team – there are 10 of us. We have a very strong team spirit. Before lockdown, we'd go on nights out together; we've even been on a team holiday.

“I wouldn’t recommend it for all managers, and I wouldn’t do it if it felt forced. I would usually only connect with people if they connect with me first. But it’s helped me to forge deeper relationships with my people as well. It’s also good for support – if, for example, a team member experiences a bereavement, I’m aware, and I can adjust my communications with them, and make sure I’m free if they want to talk.”

It’s a boundary violation and forges faux connections

“Social media is a weird, muddy area, and this has already been a weird, muddy year. Do you really want to add fire to that? We're scattered all over the place, and the focus on building connection, meeting each other and each other's humanity, is so important, but there are better ways to do this than social media,” says Kelly Hearn, psychotherapist and business consultant. “Connecting on Facebook, for example, can force them into a position where they feel that they need to share more of themselves than they're prepared to share with someone who effectively has power over them in a work situation.”

Social media has already encroached into our working lives – we should embrace it

“In our opinion, social media is a channel that must be embraced. It is not disappearing any time soon and the speed of adoption over new social channels is accelerating (just look at the recent success of TikTok). In order to engage with employees in a meaningful way it is important that we meet them where they feel comfortable,” Suzanne Hurndall, relationship director at hr inspire believes. “Even if you’re firmly in the camp of never ever crossing your work and social media streams, sometimes it simply can’t be avoided.

“If you do adopt social media in your HR and business processes, it is important that you create clear policies outlining the boundaries and consequences of breaching these boundaries, and you clearly and consistently communicate that; burying it in a handbook will not suffice. Ensure that your leadership team is fully aware of the policy and adopt the use of any social media channels appropriate to them and their businesses practices in a positive way, this will set the standard for the rest of the organisation and help foster effective practice amongst the wider team.”

People need a life outside of work

“I would never recommend to any of my clients – or indeed any friends – that they connect with employers or employees on their personal Facebook page. The lines between work and personal life are more blurred than ever this year, with many more people working from home,” says Susy Roberts, executive coach and founder of Hunter Roberts. “Employers have a duty of care to safeguard the wellbeing of their workforce, and this is often overlooked when it comes to being connected 24/7. Expecting employees to carefully curate their social media content because you insist on being part of it is an invasion of privacy that should never be contemplated, however innocent your motives may be.

“Adding employers and colleagues on Facebook also opens you up to judgement and criticism for engaging in perfectly innocent activities. I worked with one person who was off work sick with stress and anxiety. He was genuinely suffering, but he posted pictures of himself at a party and was called into a disciplinary.

“Of course, going to a party when you’re stressed or anxious can provide a huge amount of relief to your symptoms. Having to explain your reasons – however valid – will only pile on the pressure when you’re already feeling low.”

What do you think? Are you connected with your staff on social media? Let us know your thoughts using #CMIFamily on Twitter or LinkedIn or get in touch with us via email.

Don’t miss out - get notified of new content

Sign-up to become a Friend of CMI to recieve our free newsletter for a regular round-up of our latest insight and guidance.

CMI members always see more. For the widest selection of content, including CPD tools and multimedia resources, check out how to get involved with CMI membership.