Will You Be My “Friend”?




As HR professionals, a challenge we all face is how do we strike a balance between being open, approachable, and relatable to all while maintaining healthy professional boundaries? Are we supposed to be everyone's friend or no ones friend at all? I have learned over the past few years that there is a lot of gray area in our field, especially when it comes to this topic. Luckily, if you’re like me, most of us chose this profession because we like complex social situations and don’t mind ambiguity.

Behavioral research tells us that building trust requires openness and vulnerability but how much is too much? This can be challenging for any HR professional, especially those of us who are early in our careers and making the transition from being a peer to being someone in a supervisory role.

In the digital era, we have a whole new set of challenges to overcome. It is no secret that we live in a society where “friending” someone on social media as soon as you meet them has become the norm. As HR professionals, we are thrust into a unique situation that requires us to carefully consider, and at times overthink, each invitation we receive before determining whether to accept or decline.

There are of course the obvious legal risks such as exposure to information protected under Title VII, but what about the less obvious risks? 

Connecting with our employees is important, but why expose ourselves to every detail of our employees’ personal lives? If an employee calls in sick and then spends the day posting selfies at the beach, do you really want to know about it? I sure don't!

I firmly believe in keeping work and personal life separate to a certain extent.

As an HR professional I want to be seen as a resource for my employees; someone who can coach them through difficult times and help them reach their full potential, not a rule enforcer who is watching their every move. If you know too much this can sometimes be challenging, but I do want to encourage them to speak openly with me about their concerns and trust that I will do my best to help resolve them.

How can we build this positive relationship with a generation is accustomed to be so interconnecting with everyone they know without crossing a line?

Ask them how their day is going and show a genuine interest in their wellbeing. Allow them to share but maintain a professional tone and healthy boundaries. Listen to their concerns and offer solutions. Steer the conversation back on course if it veers towards TMI topics.

If you do make the choice to decline an invitation to connect, make it a universal decision to not connect on social media with anyone at work. Don’t pick and choose. That way you can do it tactfully while still being cordial.

That being said, it can get lonely at the top. Build your network of HR professionals who are dealing with or have dealt with similar situations and be open with them about your struggles. It is so beneficial to have people you trust outside of your organization that you can lean on when you need advice or just need to vent or laugh about your day over a good glass of wine.

If all else fails, delete your social media accounts and get a flip phone. Just kidding…sort of.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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