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Human Resources

The Help Desk

Published 30 July 2021 in Human Resources • 4 min read

Office life can be a source of conflict and emotional pain no matter where you are on the career ladder. Alyson Meister uses the latest research to help tackle any problems you may face

Should I ‘friend’ my colleagues on Facebook? 

We’re all working in a virtual world now, and I find that I’m getting more “friend” requests across various social media platforms from colleagues and clients, but also from my organization’s social media accounts. Do I have to “friend” these people? Should I?  

Social media is one of those topics that can divide a dinner party (particularly after Netflix’s The Social Dilemma), so there is no clear “right” answer to whether one should connect with colleagues, clients or organizations. What is most important is to intentionally set your own informed rules and boundaries, and actually follow through with them. 

Here are a few things to consider: First, determine why you are on social media. To socialize with friends? To keep in touch with long lost colleagues?  To develop client relationships? To disseminate (or sell) your work? All of the above? Armed with that knowledge, you can decide if you prefer to be a segmentor or an integrator. That is, whether you prefer to keep your professional life separate from your private life. If you’re not sure, ask yourself if you would be uncomfortable that your supervisor, client, or employee sees your latest vacation pictures or news of the birth of your first child. Perhaps you might prefer to curate different versions of yourself for different audiences. If so, chose intentionally which platforms to use to reveal each part of yourself.   

Connecting as digital “friends” with colleagues is increasingly prevalent. Research suggests that there are benefits in blurring our personal-professional boundaries – the more we know about one another, the more we can bond. That being said, while it’s generally recommended to bring as much of “your whole self” to work as possible, it is important to note that this poses some risk – this has been documented in particular for minorities – so should be done when you are feeling psychologically safe, with intention and strategically.  

 

Forced time off 

I manage an international team and I’m finding that my people are working, and in particular answering emails, around the clock. I often receive emails from one of my team members at midnight in her time zone. I have also noticed that people are just not booking vacation days – or they are working when they are officially on vacation. Should I get involved in managing the time of my employees? I’m sensing burnout looming. 

 The short answer is: yes. You should get involved because exhaustion and burnout are looming across the globe. People are working longer hours than ever before (up to 2.5 hours more per day in some countries), and are increasingly unable to set and adhere to boundaries between their personal and professional lives. Before getting involved, first reflect on what example you, as their manager, are setting. Are you sending emails at 9pm? Boasting about your Sunday schedule or how you’ll “always be available on email” while on holiday? Are you close to burning out yourself?  Behavior and emotions are contagious, particularly if you’re the leader. You set the stage for what is and is not overtly acceptable – and what is and is not expected. You may be part of the problem.  

Second, if you are role modeling boundaries – taking time off and showing your team that it is OK to disconnect – it may be time to explicitly address this issue with them. Have a conversation about team culture – ask, where are we now when it comes to our stress and energy levels? Where do we want to be? What kind of behaviors do we commit to, expect from each other, and celebrate? Are there some rules and boundaries that need to be fixed? You may need to enforce change. For example, Citibank recently banned Zoom meetings on Fridays. Sometimes it can be useful to decipher which “priorities” are actually urgent (here is a simple matrix to help with this).  Sometimes, it can be about determining who really needs to be in the virtual room, to free up time on calendars. If the team openly agrees to its norms and expectations, it’s easier to hold you and each other accountable and witness movement in the right direction.  

Authors

Alyson Meister - IMD Professor

Alyson Meister

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD

Alyson Meister is a Professor specializing in the development of globally-oriented, adaptive and inclusive organizations, she has worked with thousands of executives, teams, and organizations spanning professional services through to industrial goods and technology. She was recognized as a Thinkers50 Radar thought leader in 2021.

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