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My manager has added/requested to follow me on nearly every social-media channel on which she can find me, including Instagram and Snapchat.
It just irks me to be constantly “in her presence” when not at work. She is a micromanager and requires lots of check-ins as it is, and I need a break. However, the rest of my team is on board with this, and have added one another and our boss to their social feeds. (Some context — they are all in their 20s, I am in my late 30s with kids.) Moreover, we are also all on a team WhatsApp chat (no business — all social), and I feel pressure to keep up with the constant chatting even after work hours. I didn’t have the choice to be left off of this one, and if I leave the channel, it will be obvious.
I want to fit in and be a “team player,” but I feel like I have no privacy or time that is just mine. If it were just my co-workers, great. But I don’t want the boss mixed in with my social media/non-working time. I feel that she should have probably drawn the line somewhere, but she doesn’t really do a good job of separating personal time from working time in general.
Is this the new normal? Does it look bad if I don’t participate?
It can be a norm among bosses with no boundaries, yes. It’s not the norm among managers who realize their employees deserve some separation between work and the rest of their lives.
And frankly, managers themselves should want some separation! All sorts of weird conflicts can arise from managers and employees being too connected on social media. If your boss sees Instagram photos of you at a baseball game the day you called in sick to work, now she has to decide whether that’s something she needs to say something about or not. (Answer: No, not unless it’s a pattern, but not every manager will see it that way.) What if you forget she’s listening and talk about a medical condition on Facebook that you didn’t want to share with her? And it’s not hard to inadvertently end up sharing other information about yourself that opens you to bias (unconscious or otherwise) from your boss, like religion, political views, or your reproductive plans.
The need for boundaries goes both ways, too — it’s awkward to deliver serious performance feedback to someone who a few hours before was writing a funny comment on a photo of you doing the limbo in a bikini at the beach.
Boundaries between managers and the people they manage are good. That doesn’t mean managers and employees can’t have warm, friendly relationships; they can, and they should. But they don’t need to be connected on social platforms that put their personal lives right in front of each other. And if those connections happen anyway, as sometimes they do, they definitely shouldn’t be initiated by the manager; there’s too much inherent pressure to accept a connection request when your boss sends you one.
So, what can you do? Well, if you had a time machine and could go back to when your boss first sent you those requests to connect, I’d tell you to ignore them. Sometimes the easiest way to avoid too much contact with a boss on social media is to just pretend the requests never happened. Most managers won’t then follow up and say, “Hey, why haven’t you accepted my friend request on Facebook?” But if yours does, you can fall back on, “Oh, I’m always missing stuff on Facebook” or “I really just use Facebook to keep in touch with family” or even “I’m totally old-school about social media and never add co-workers while we’re working together.”
It’s too late for that now, but you still have options. The most low-key approach: On platforms where you can mute people and/or block them without them knowing they’re blocked, do that. And on platforms like Facebook, relegate your boss to a “work people” list that sees only the occasional, highly innocuous posts from you. That alone will cut down on how much presence your boss has in your non-work online life.
But there’s a more direct approach too, which might be wise if your boss is the type to notice she’s suddenly not seeing any posts from you anymore and to ask you about it. You could simply disconnect from her everywhere, and then say something like, “Hey, just FYI, you probably won’t see me much on social media anymore. I’m trying to cut back on my use of it, and realized I want to have more of a work/life divide on the platforms I do use. It’s a little awkward disconnecting from people with no explanation, so I’ve been letting people know what I’m doing.” That language implies she’s one of many who you’re disconnecting from, even if she’s not, so that it’s less personal.
The vast majority of managers will be fine with that. It clearly hasn’t occurred to your boss that not everyone shares her comfort with mixing their professional lives with their social-media lives, but that doesn’t mean that she won’t be fine with it once she sees you backing away from it. “Jane just isn’t that into social media” and “Jane is on a social-media diet” are both narratives that people recognize, and it’s much more likely that she’ll just plug you into one of those rather than thinking, “How dare Jane freeze me out on the internet?” If you’re at all worried about the latter, though, make a point of being especially warm to her in your work-related interactions for a while, which will help counteract that.
As for that team WhatsApp chat (whyyyy?), you don’t need to be a constant participant, but popping in a couple of times a week during the work day can make you seem like you’re still connected to the social chatter of your office. But you definitely don’t need to keep up with it after work hours! It’s purely social, so you should feel free to disconnect from it entirely when you’re done working. It’s pretty likely that no one will comment on it — people generally understand that other people might have lives that take over when they leave work — but if anyone does, you can say, “Yeah, I’m usually busy with my kids in the evening” (because you probably are, and you don’t need to pretend otherwise!) or “Oh, I’m not usually looking at my phone in the evenings” or whatever other explanation you want to give. This is fine! Unless your team is highly dysfunctional, people will accept this.
With all of this, it really is okay to set the boundaries you want to have. As long as you make a point of being warm and friendly to people at work, people will figure that this is just about the way you use social media, not about your feelings for them.
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Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.