Urgent message: Social media strengthens friendships through the sharing of life experiences and common interests, but is it really a good idea for providers or administrators in an urgent care practice to become quite so personal with employees (and vice-versa)?

Do you want to be my friend?

For children, this is a simple question. Kids are able to form friendships over simple, common bonds, like a shared love of the playground slide or an animated character.

Like everything else, the matter of friendship becomes more complicated as we move into adulthood. No longer a simple question, there are countless considerations to be made before bringing someone new into your circle of friends.

This has become even more complicated in the digital age. Facebook has made friendship a public commitment, confirmed with the click of a mouse by both parties. When you enter into a friendship on Facebook, you are agreeing to share much of your private life with the other person.

A Professional Dilemma
It’s pretty easy to decide whether or not to add someone as a Facebook friend when they come from your private life. It may be a parent of another child on your kid’s soccer team, or someone you used to know in college. These kinds of friend requests are typically harmless, and they are usually accepted without a second thought.

When the friend request comes from someone in your professional world, however, things get complicated. Specifically, what do you do when it comes from your boss, or your employee? It’s important to have a plan.

As a medical professional, you already understand the dynamics that are in place in the average office. The doctors and administrators are highly educated and well-compensated, while the frontline staff, such as medical assistants and receptionists, receives less pay and typically have less education. While this kind of dichotomy is not unique to the medical field, it is perhaps more dramatic here than in most other industries. Because in an urgent care center, the doctor is the “product” being sold, the “bottleneck” to all processes, and the ultimate authority on issues of patient care.

The Benefits
On the positive side, entering into a Facebook friendship with employees in your medical practice could help build stronger bonds throughout the office. Having access to each other’s digital lives will inevitably make you more aware of what everyone else is doing away from the office—for better or worse.

On the “better” side, this may lead to more conversation during the workday, and closer personal relationships over time. Additionally, you may find that the staff works together more successfully as a result of these online friendships. If the Facebook connection manages to foster increased respect and personal trust, the performance of everyone in the office could be elevated as a result.

The Drawbacks
As noted, with an issue as tricky as this one there are bound to be drawbacks. Without a doubt, many practice managers and administrators are going to find the drawbacks to be more significant than the benefits.

One of the key drawbacks to note is the difference in lifestyle between a doctor and a receptionist, for example. The doctor is going to earn several times the income of the receptionist, and will live a different lifestyle as a result. If the doctor is posting pictures of a tropical vacation in a far-off land, the receptionist may become jealous and resentful. This concept goes well beyond vacations, as it can apply in the same way to cars, homes, and more. His kid’s headed abroad to study art history in Prague; her kid’s working full-time to take night courses at community college.

There is also the loss of work-life balance to be considered when including associates from work in a personal environment like Facebook. It is harder and harder to separate your work from your personal life in the digital age, as you can always be reached with a phone call or text message wherever you are. This line can become even more blurred when you decide to accept friend requests from employees.

Everyone is entitled to privacy, and there should be some degree of privacy in how you spend your time away from work. If an employee spends a Friday night “partying” with friends…will that employee now be seen as immature or irresponsible by the boss? What if the boss feels the employee is making irresponsible choices as to children, financial expenditures, or intimate relationships? Will those judgments carry over to the boss’s evaluation of the employee’s work performance?

And let’s not even get started on religion and politics.

Setting a Policy
In the end, it is up to each practice manager to determine the best course of action. With that said, it’s strongly recommended to establish a policy and then stick to that policy consistently. Accepting friend requests from some employees while denying (or just ignoring) others is a mistake. Even the appearance of favoritism is never beneficial in the workplace, so you should set a standard and then apply that standard across the board.

It is easy to see how Facebook friendships could improve real-life relationships in the workplace. It is also easy to see how this kind of arrangement can go wrong. Have an honest discussion with the other administrators in your practice and make a thoughtful decision which can be explained to the rest of the staff.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care, LLC and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

Facebook Friendship Between Leaders and Employees: A Good Idea?

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine