I almost quit social media because of work.
I loved social media. I thought I did a good job keeping things private, that was, until someone at work told me he Googled me. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve Googled people before and I know recruiters/potential employers Google job applicants to learn more about them.
Why was this particular event different?
It was different because this person made me extremely uncomfortable in the workplace. He was above me in the workplace hierarchy and, looking back on it now, he used his status to influence when and how I did my work. He would request meetings lasting for hours, in his office, just the two of us, with the door closed. When one of my coworkers moved, he would ask me about her, he would tell me about the emails he sent her and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t emailing or calling him back.
He requested an early morning meeting, before anyone else was in the office. He said he Googled me.
He told me he found my wedding registry and asked to be invited to my wedding. He said he read through my entire Twitter (over 3 years of content) and wanted to talk about some tweets. He had written them down and brought them to the meeting. He wanted to know “more” about my family. He said he “thought he knew me before,” but “now feels like he knows me so much better.”
I felt sick. I felt like my privacy was more than invaded. It was violated. I felt like it was my fault.
He told me we didn’t have to talk about it if it made me uncomfortable. I told him it made me uncomfortable. He ignored my statement and proceeded to his questions, which were written down on multiple sheets of paper.
I sat in his office, silent, until he said I could leave.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened.
The instant I escaped his office I took personal responsibility for the event and I decided to protect myself from this happening again. I Googled myself and went through the first 12 pages of Google results to see what I could find and remove; I deleted all social media accounts except for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram; I locked down those three remaining accounts; I deleted or disconnected from people I didn’t know very well; I deleted pictures; I deleted posts; I made things so private it looked like I almost didn’t have an online presence.
I quit posting.
I became less connected to long-distance friends. My relationships with those outside my immediate circle began to dwindle. I became suspicious and distrusting of others, especially those I met at work.
This distinct experience significantly influenced my perception of safety in the workplace, and it was a key reason I refrained from building relationships in the workplace and in school for the next two years. I didn’t trust anyone, especially people who reminded me of the individual I described above.
After several years of going to work just to get paid and being the person who didn’t want to make friends or put significant effort into workplace relationships, I realized just because this happened to me in one workplace didn’t mean it would happen to me in every workplace.
The importance of workplace relationships
Most people are aware of boundaries. Even if they Google you, they don’t tell you they Googled you and they especially don’t start a discussion by pulling out a list of questions about things they read/found.
I realized I spent more time with people at work than with my family or non-work friends. This was my turning point. Workplace relationships are important, if not vital to the success of an organization, and if people work to build positive workplace relationships, workplaces can thrive. People don’t have to show up to work just to get paid. Those who do are likely not engaged and they may end up decreasing the overall level of engagement within an organization.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) released survey results in 2016 that showed how workplace relationships are drivers of employee engagement.
77% of respondents indicated relationships with their coworkers influenced their engagement in the workplace and 74% indicated relationships with their immediate supervisor also impacted their level of engagement in the workplace. Along the same lines, Gallup, a research-based, global performance-management consulting company, has conducted employee engagement research for over 30 years. One of the most controversial questions Gallup asks is, “Do you have a best friend at work?”
Gallup repeatedly shows a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort employees expend in their job. Gallup uses the following example: women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%).
Research shows employees seek out and stay with organizations with exceptional workplace cultures. While there are many different components to workplace culture, exceptional workplace culture is often characterized by overall feelings of trust, belongingness and inclusion.
We want our work to feel worthwhile and meaningful. Having trusted confidants and supporters helps foster those feelings. We go to our work friends when we need to celebrate and commiserate about both our personal and professional lives. In the absence workplace friendships, work can become lonely and isolating. It lacks attachments. Although we may like what we do and we may get to use our talents and strengths every day, if we don’t have positive workplace relationships or workplace friendships, we’re probably not feeling fully motivated to put everything into our roles.
If companies focus on creating relationship-centric workplaces they will allow employees to build quality relationships with one another. These quality relationships will strengthen business by increasing morale, employee retention, productivity, and teamwork.
Connecting the Dots
Lesson 1: Be prepared for someone you don’t know very well to Google you. You may even want to be prepared for them to tell you they Googled you AND for them to want to talk to you about it. If this happens, don’t go nuclear on your online presence like I did. If you disconnect from your online presence you may become distanced from important connections and opportunities. Don’t over react and determine all workplaces are equal and this will happen to you again (it hasn’t happened to me since).
Lesson 2: Positive workplace relationships are important to the functioning and overall success of a business. Research shows that those who report having a best friend at work are significantly more engaged in the workplace than those who don’t. Foundational feelings of contribution, trust, and altruism are all derived from one thing—human relationships. If positive human relationships are missing form a workplace, engagement will most definitely suffer.
Have you ever had something uncomfortable like this happen at work? How did you handle it?
Do you have a best friend at work? How does your friendship influence your perception of the workplace?
Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your organization’s level of employee engagement and improve positive workplace relationships, please review my services here and contact me here.
This was originally posted on LinkedIn on March 26th, 2018. See the full post here.