Social Media has become a significant tool for supervisors to use during the hiring process, research shows. But supervisors are adept at using Facebook for far more, according to Dr. Katherine Karl, Professor of Management in the UTC College of Business. She has conducted research into these areas and has written several papers, including “A Facebook ‘friend request from the boss: Too close for comfort?”
“Some employers require applicants to provide their passwords as a condition of employment, although some states have made this practice illegal. Some employers monitor their employees Facebook pages to make sure they are not saying anything negative about the company, its product, or its management that might damage the company’s image or affect its business. Some employers monitor employees Facebook pages to control absenteeism. That is, they attempt to verify whether an employee was truly sick or just wanted a day off of work,” Karl explained.
Karl says if an employee accepts a Facebook friend request from a supervisor, there are ways to control what the supervisor sees by using privacy settings and to closely monitor their friends postings to be sure they haven’t been “tagged” with images they do not want their supervisor to see.
“The awkwardness in denying a supervisor’s friend request comes from the fact that the supervisor has the power to both punish and reward the employee. If the supervisor takes offense when his/her “friend” request is ignored, he/she may make things uncomfortable (to say the least) for the employee in the workplace. For some employees it may feel similar to having to say no to a supervisor who has asked them out on a date,” Karl said.
In her article from Business Horizons, Karl’s recommendation to supervisors is to consider a more professional means of online communication.
For managers, it is best not to send employees a friend request on Facebook or any other similar form of social media (e.g., Twitter). Evidence indicates that many employees are not comfortable receiving such requests. Likewise, we recommend that managers should not accept friend requests from their subordinates. If management believes social media is necessary to improve communication and collaboration within their organization, we suggest using a more professional forum, such as LinkedIn.
Karl also specifically surveyed Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and found that about half would accept a Facebook friend request from a supervisor, but many would block content of their pages from being seen by the supervisor. Karl also found nearly 50 percent of the CRNAs surveyed had friended physicians they
“I think that the CRNAs feel more comfortable “friending” physicians because they perceive them to be friends in real life (we had some comments to support this). That is, the relationship between CRNAs and physicians is different than that of the CRNA/supervisor relationship,” Karl explained.
In an upcoming article for Health Marketing Quarterly, Karl says many physicians, mostly young, are successfully interacting with patients on Facebook, but there are risks.
“Our conclusions and recommendations are similar to those we made earlier. Healthcare organizations need carefully written social media policies and employees, both physicians and nurses, need training on appropriate use of social media, in particular, what not to post,” Karl said.
Student reactions to professors’ Facebook friend requests
In her 2011 survey of 200 undergraduate students, Karl asked if they would be delighted, flattered, calm, irritated or suspicious of a friend request from a professor whose class they were to take in the following semester, someone they did not know. The most common response was suspicion. What about a request from their “worst” professor? Students mostly responded they would be irritated by the request.
“Our recommendation, and I think it is still valid, is that faculty need to communicate with students ahead of time to assure them that Facebook is being used for educational purposes only. It is also wise to remind students of privacy settings. Faculty should also use privacy settings. It is also possible to have two Facebook accounts,” Karl explains.