Facebook and work: how do you manage the separation?

Depending on your personality type, your desire to network, or even your generation, it may seem like a good idea to add the people you work with to your Facebook friends list. As a recruiter and an outgoing person who tends to greet coworkers with a hug, I understand the impulse. And for the millennial generation, the instinct is to friend everyone—even acquaintances. But there are good reasons to proceed with caution.

Here are 5 things to think about before mixing Facebook and work.

Facebook and coworkers can mix—depending on the relationship
Whether you are a manager, senior partner or individual contributor, you may find it less problematic to be Facebook friends with colleagues—professional equals—than with people in different positions of power. But keep in mind that people’s careers advance at different speeds, and the colleague you friend on Facebook one year may become your superior (or subordinate) the next. So while you might feel uncomfortable turning down a coworker’s Facebook friend request, doing so could prevent further awkwardness in the future.

Being friends with your boss doesn’t require being Facebook friends
You may have good rapport with your boss, but it can be harder to manage their perception of you after adding them as a Facebook friend. If you do, be prepared to always conduct yourself like the professional you are, all day and every day, when representing yourself online.

Remember that your reputation is at stake
Your career prospects, not to mention your current position, rest upon a good professional image. If your Facebook friends include coworkers, potential employers, or people who could refer you as a job candidate, you’ll always want to be in best-behavior “interview” mode when updating your status or commenting on friends’ posts.

There are other ways to network besides Facebook
Recruiters in some industries may utilize Facebook to find candidates, but as a recruiter in the highly confidential job search industry, I try to respect people’s privacy. Business networking sites like LinkedIn allow you to leverage colleagues’ networks just as easily, and posts on LinkedIn tend to be positive and helpful instead of unpredictable, as they can be on Facebook. Twitter is another good option, as it lets you create separate professional and personal accounts.

You’ll need to observe these Facebook “dos” and “don’ts”
If you do decide to add people from work to your Facebook community, try to refrain from tagging coworkers in photos (especially work function photos), and be diligent about un-tagging yourself. Avoid posting anything negative about your work, because once it’s online, you can never truly take it back. If you simply must vent or if you want to ask online friends about other job leads, Facebook lets you create closed groups so you can communicate privately with designated friends.

Basically, you should practice good professional conduct online, which means taking a moment to think through your actions and their consequences, whether you’re sending an email, updating your status—or adding a Facebook friend.

What is your personal practice with regard to friending coworkers on Facebook? I’m interested to hear how you manage the balance and welcome your comments below.