Should You Be Facebook Friends with Staff Members?

December 3, 2015

Wondering whether or not it's OK to be friends on social media sites like Facebook with your staff? Let the Civility CEO Help.

Dear Sue,

I have a clear policy against befriending patients on Facebook, but what about my staff? Is it appropriate for me to accept their friend requests?

- Pending

Dear Pending,

This can be tricky. While it may feel like socializing online with your staff after work will enhance your rapport at work, doing so might skew your professional relationships - especially when you're in a position of authority.

I'm hearing from an increasing number of people who are intentionally curating their social media connections - especially on Facebook - in order to maintain privacy, separate their work and private lives, and develop more authentic personal and professional connections.

Before you even think about accepting a Facebook friend request from a member of your staff, ask yourself these five questions:

1. Do I want share my private activities with my staff?

2. Do I want my employees to have access to my personal photos and contacts?

3. Do I want to maintain this connection if the staff member resigns?

4. Do I want to set a precedent in my practice by accepting a friend request from a staff member?

5. Do I want to be privy to this person's activities outside of work?

If you can't say yes to all five questions, your best bet is to decline the friend request. If you do accept, be prepared for other coworkers to reach out and invite you to connect with them.

You can avoid these cyber situations altogether by letting your staff know upfront that you prefer not to mix online mingling with medicine (if that's the case). Alternatively, you can set up a professional Facebook page, which is open, or suggest that your staff join you on a more neutral site, like LinkedIn. Better yet, sit down with them in the break room and have face-to-face conversations in real time.

Dear Sue,

My practice is prospering and I am not able to accept any new patients for the foreseeable future. Still, I have frequent requests from friends, neighbors, and even family members to make an exception and see them or someone they know. Frankly, I don't have the time. How can I make this clear without letting people down?

- Booked Solid

Dear Booked Solid,

Congratulations on your success! It's not uncommon for people to want to repurpose their social connection with an accomplished physician to ensure that they, their friends, or their family receive optimal medical care. Of course, that doesn't make this conundrum any easier for you.

It can be hard to say no to people you'd like to help, but if you open the door even a crack with comments like, "I'll have my office manager get back to you" or "Let me see what I can do," you're only delaying the inevitable. Instead, you need to craft a firm statement that empowers you to halt these appeals with a combination of grace, respect, and professionalism.

Start by expressing your gratitude, and then add a statement that leaves nothing about your availability to doubt. End with a positive suggestion. It could sound something like this:

"Thank you for your faith in my skills. As much as I wish I could see you/your friend/your relative, my practice is full and I am simply not in a position to take on new patients right now. I don't expect that to change any time soon. I understand the clinic on West Street is accepting patients and I have a great deal of respect for the doctors there. You may want to give them a try."

You'll note in the above example that an apology was not offered. That's because there's no need to say you're sorry for having a busy practice.

How you deliver this message is as important as its content. Demonstrate empathy and be sincere. If the person persists, you'll have to repeat yourself in a more direct way.

Sue Jacques, The Civility CEO®, is a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, keynote speaker, and author. Sue helps people and practices gain confidence, earn respect, and prosper through professionalism by creating courteous and confident corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com

This article was originally published in the November/December 2015 issue of Physicians Practice.