It was hard to miss the story on the Australian workplace tribunal decision that to unfriend a colleague can be regarded as bullying. But the bigger question that seemed to be ignored in the debate was this: what on Earth are people doing being Facebook friends with colleagues in the first place?

LinkedIn, of course, is understandable. So, too, to a certain extent, Twitter and Instagram, even though they’re more about following than friending. But Facebook? There’s something about the nature of the site that brings out the most inauthentic and narcissistic attributes of a person, thereby making it a no-go zone for anyone concerned about their career.

Very few people, I presume, post stuff on Facebook only once they’ve carefully considered the professional implications. In most cases, they’ll add a status update (“Work ends in five minutes, thank God”) or they’ll share trashy party pictures, join a controversial group, vent about a personal problem or do something else that equally betrays the image they’re trying to portray at work.

There are also the political consequences. If you befriend one co-worker on Facebook, does that mean you need to accept all other friendship requests? What happens if you reject someone? And if you invite an employee to be a friend, will that be perceived as an attempt to pry into their personal life or, even worse, a public display of favouritism?

These reasons, and more, were a factor in why I deleted my Facebook profile in 2012. An additional reason can be found in an analysis published in the Journal of Workplace Rights earlier this year by scholars at Indiana University.

The researchers were intrigued by several statistics they wanted to explore further. For example: employees, on average, spend an hour a day on Facebook while they’re at work. Sixty per cent are Facebook friends with their colleagues. A quarter are even friends with their boss.

While this particular study focused on one specific repercussion for public servants, the same repercussion was deemed to apply irrespective of the profession. It’s known as ‘Facebook fired’, and it reflects the people who lose their job as a result of their online behaviour.

There’s little to protect an individual from missing out on a promotion or a job opportunity simply because of their recklessness on the net. Which is why the professors conclude their paper with a warning: “Workers across all job types need to be careful with what they post on social media and whom they allow to access their content.”

The same professors, in a separate study published a few months ago, looked more deeply at a range of other statistics. These include:

– 93 per cent of recruiters browse applicants’ social media pages prior to scheduling an interview or making a job offer.

– 43 per cent have changed their mind based on what they’ve seen.

– 8 per cent of organisations have fired at least one employee for their social media (mis)behaviour.

With that as contextual background, the researchers surveyed more than 400 people aged between 18 and 27 to see how they felt about this trend. Most of the respondents expressed that hiring and firing decisions should not be influenced by what someone posts online. One third even said an individual should be able to upload sexual material of an illicit nature without the threat of losing their job.

What those findings demonstrate is that, for a majority of employees, their attitudes contradict their employers’ expectations. If such contradictions continue unchecked, it’s easy to see how valuable careers could be at risk. The writing really is on the (Facebook) wall.

Read more: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/opinion-analysis/72667528/When-you-shouldn-t-friend-work-colleagues-on-Facebook

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