Are you friends with your coworkers on Facebook? It's common knowledge that most companies keep an eye on what their employees are posting online, especially on social media sites like Facebook. And yet, according to a new study by Millennial Branding, most "Generation Y" Facebook users "friend" many of their co-workers, potentially opening themselves up to embarrassing and career-killing problems at the office.
"Gen-Y needs to be aware that what they publish online can come back to haunt them in the workplace," says Dan Schawbel, founder of Boston-based Millennial Branding and the author of "Me 2.0." "Gen-Y managers and co-workers have insight into their social lives, which could create an awkward workplace setting or even result in a termination."
Related: Do you Facebook with your boss?
Using more than 50 million Facebook data points supplied by Indentified.com, the Millennial branding study notes that 64 percent of Facebook users ages 18 to 29 avoid listing their job on their profiles. "They don't want to list their employer because they don't want their boss or co-workers to find their profiles, yet our study concludes that they are connected to an average of 16 co-workers on Facebook anyways!" Schawbel tells Yahoo! Shine.
Some companies seems to be actively encouraging such connections, however. In order to compete with LinkedIn, where the profiles are strictly professional, Facebook app BranchOut offers job-related networking right where you socialize online.
"I get asked for introductions to my LinkedIn connections all the time," Rick Marini, the chief executive of BranchOut, told the New York Times. "The problem is, these are people I've met for five minutes at a conference and I don't feel comfortable vouching for them. My Facebook friends are all my real friends."
Of the 36 percent of Gen Y users that do share their employment on Facebook, just 7 percent listed a current job at a Fortune 500 company. With the faltering economy and the difficulty in landing internships, most Gen-Y job candidates are flocking to the travel industry, hospitality positions (like bartending and waitressing), and the U.S. military -- all jobs where personal privacy can be important.
But trying to keep their private lives private may not be their only motive. People under 30 may have a stronger tie to their former classmates than they do to their co-workers, Schawbel points out; according to the study, 80 percent of users list at least one school on their Facebook profiles.
"In our study, we found that Gen-Y only stays at their first job for just over two years," Schawbel points out. "The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American will have about nine jobs between the ages of 18 and 32. Gen-Y are typically characterized as job hoppers, meaning that they know they won't stay long so there's less attachment."
Some may also be friending their coworkers in order to avoid seeming rude. A 2011 survey by LIberty Mutual found that 40 percent of people think it's "irresponsible" to ignore a friend request from a coworker, though it may be easier (and safer) to be friends with former coworkers rather than current ones, writes Andrea Bennett at Liberty Mutual's The Responsibility Project. "It's natural to gravitate toward the people you'd actually be friends with at work," she writes, "but perhaps more responsible to do your gravitating when you're free of work responsibilities."
It's probably unwise to get your Facebook friends' profile pictures tattooed on your arm, even temporarily, but even if you're besties at the office, is it wise to be friends with your coworkers on Facebook? What about your boss?
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What the number of Facebook friends you have says about you