Let's Just Be Friends

For the longest time, school leaders have been advised to avoid being Facebook friends with employees.


"You don't want to get too close to your staff," veteran leaders warn.


For most of my professional life, I followed this advice. When employees sent friend requests, I ignored their offers. Careful not to hurt feelings, I never deleted requests ... but rathet let them sit idle until I left the district. Only after leaving would I accept the dozens of pending friend requests.


But when I arrived at my current job, I used a different strategy. Rather than disregard the invitations, I began accepting friend requests from employees. “Let’s see how this goes,” I said upon clicking on the first blue “Add Friend” icon.


At first, only a few employees reached out. But when others noticed I was accepting friend requests, the floodgates opened. Three and a half years later, I am Facebook friends with nearly two-thirds of our 265 employees.


Whereas I was initially hesitant to change my philosophy, I now realize accepting employee friend requests was one of the best leadership decisions I've ever made.

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Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel said, “Always take the time to acknowledge people. If you show interest in them, they will be interested in you.”


For bosses who are looking to acknowledge and show interest in employees, few places are more efficient and effective than social media. While in-person conversations still rule for building meaningful relationships, leaders cannot underestimate the power of social networking.


Social media - this article will focus on Facebook - is where staff share what is most important in their lives. Whether they post pictures of a new grandchild, a wedding engagement, or a family vacation, when something important happens in their lives, staff spread the news on social media.


When you have hundreds of employees - like many school leaders do - it can be hard to keep tabs on the latest news. And while leaders don't need to know everything that goes on, Facebook provides quick snapshots of employee milestone moments.


What is particularly advantageous about Facebook friendships is that leaders have two distinct opportunities to make employees feel special. The first opportunity is when the leader initially scrolls through their feed and notices an employee post. When a leader “likes” the post and leaves a positive comment, this makes the employee feel important.


"Wow, my boss commented on my post," employees think upon receiving notification. "That really means a lot!"


The second opportunity to make the employee feel special is when the leader subsequently crosses paths with the individual at work. Rather than engage in classic "Good morning!" or "How are you?" small talk, the boss can focus attention on the employee by saying "Your new puppy is so cute!" or "How did your 5k race go?"


Support staff are one group of employees who feel especially honored when a supervisor notices important life events. In many school settings, support staff feel overlooked and under-appreciated. Some school leaders don't even know support staff names! In a time when quality employees are increasingly hard to find, school leaders should treat Facebook as an opportunity to learn about support staff for the purpose of engaging in future dialogue.


“But I don’t do social media,” some readers may be thinking. “It’s a waste of time.”


I totally get it. Studies have found a strong link between heavy social media use and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Furthermore, the addictive nature of social media drains precious brainpower and robs us of time that could be spent on productive activities.


However, school leaders must understand current reality. Not only do 81 percent of American adults have Facebook accounts, 97 percent of college graduates use social media. And while platforms change with time, social media shows no signs of slowing down.


The point is, Facebook is where most employees congregate. While not all school leaders are fans of social media, they must realize most school employees are. And when school leaders draw a line in the social media stand, they willingly forego valuable opportunities to engage with staff.


Alternately, leaders who are open to social media realize that online friendships aren't all that complicated. When they carefully navigate potential social media landmines, leaders discover that Facebook provides untapped leverage for building relationships and enhancing school culture.

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Thinking about taking this advice and accepting employee friend requests? Here are six tips to remember:


One Way Street: While others may disagree, bosses should avoid actively asking employees to be Facebook friends. Not every employee wants to be chummy with their boss, and that's okay. Rather than put employees in an awkward situation, bosses should sit back and allow employees to initiate the friend request.


Be Careful: It goes without saying that school leaders must be careful about what they post. Social media blunders are one of the quickest ways for school leaders to get into hot water. In today’s society, far more leaders are fired as a result of careless social media posts than they are low test scores.


Don’t Play Favorites: School leaders must remember that some employees will attempt to read between the lines and dissect certain communications. Therefore, school leaders must remain relatively consistent in how they interact with employees. You certainly don’t want to give off the impression that you are favoring certain staff.


Time Commitment: Adopting this professional practice shouldn't take much time, as most school leaders already use Facebook for personal and professional reasons. Simply taking five minutes every couple days to engage with a few employee posts is all that is needed for this practice to be impactful.


Overtime: Transformational school leaders work around the clock to build school culture. They realize that every like, comment, and share is adding value to their employees - which builds a stronger organization. Understanding how much time goes into building a positive school environment can be handy when school leaders are questioned about "high salaries" or "not spending enough time at work."


Return the Favor: School leaders who engage with employees on social media often notice that staff will reciprocate the support. Not only does it feel good when employees like your personal posts, school leaders typically find that employees with whom they have strong online relationships come to their rescue when community members question school-related decisions.


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Managerial myth says that school leaders shouldn't become Facebook friends with employees.


Let's set this myth aside.


School leaders who go from blocking invites to accepting requests discover an alternate pathway for building relationships.

 

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