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How Facebook mucks up office life

Are you over-sharing with colleagues?

Managing a workforce is already a challenging job; now Facebook and other social networks raise a host of sticky new situations.

Facebook blurs the line between worker and boss

Facebook can be a swamp for boss and employee alike as everything from romantic entanglements and political views to over-sharing about recreational substance use makes its way from the digital world to the physical office.

If your top programmer announces on Facebook that she's pregnant, but neglects to tell you in real life, is this information you now 'know' for planning purposes or not? If a long-time contract programmer shares in his status update that he just got a contract to write a book, are you out of line in asking if he still has time for your projects?

Beyond discretion, there are potential legal issues as well. If one of your direct reports posts links on Facebook to 'adult' YouTube videos, could another employee maintain that it creates a hostile workplace environment? Is it your responsibility to do something about it? As with workplace harassment issues from 20 years ago, the answer seems to be "nobody knows - or at least not yet".

Given that uncertainty, managers are best off not 'friending' current work colleagues, and definitely not subordinates, says Lynette Fallon, Executive VP HR/Legal at Axcelis Technologies. "You should tell your co-workers that it's nothing personal, it's just your policy not to mix friends on Facebook," she advises.

Beyond that, managers with active Facebook subordinates should at the very least encourage them to keep co-workers and outside friends on two different Friend Lists.

Facebook's apps and photos can leave you vulnerable

Even if you and your employees are careful not to share sensitive information in wall posts and status updates, it's still easy to inadvertently spill the beans. The internet is chock-a-block with applications that bring data into Facebook from outside sources - again, often without the user's realisation.

As just one example, "There's a way to capture Delicious bookmarks to Facebook so that everything you bookmark gets posted to your feed," says Selvas.

If your research team is using Delicious to bookmark source pages and haven't checked their privacy settings, their work may be getting propagated on Facebook, giving friends and potentially competitors alike a pretty good idea of what your company's next big idea is going to be.

That goes for individuals too - if you bookmarked several articles about becoming an IT consultant, that information should be for your eyes only, not all your work colleagues on Facebook.

Other applications display the books you're reading and the movies you just bought tickets to.

All this information is time-stamped when it's displayed. Even if you don't mind your boss knowing you bought tickets to I Love You, Man, do you really want her knowing you bought them while you were on the clock? If you're working on a non-company project on company time, same problem. Unless you - or your co-workers - know to turn on the controls, all your Facebook friends can see what you were really doing during that endless conference call.

NEXT PAGE: Another concern

  1. Are you over-sharing with your colleagues?
  2. Too many friends
  3. The consequences
  4. Blurring the line between worker and boss
  5. Another concern
  6. Security threats still apply

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