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Can I Friend My Boss?: Digital Etiquette At The Office

Whether you’re waiting for that Abercrombie model look-alike from your chem lab to text you back or you accidentally sent out a thread meant for only you and your bestie to your entire Facebook friend list, sometimes technology makes our lives more complicated, not easier. While interacting with your friends via texts, Twitter and Facebook is one thing, adding bosses, co-workers and your entire office into the mix makes for the perfect recipe for awkward. Sooner or later, every collegiette will run into a digital etiquette dilemma. Here’s your ultimate guide on how to handle the trickiest “what do I do?” email, Facebook and text moments when it comes to your professional relationships.

Email Etiquette

DO respond to every email (even when it may not seem like it needs a response).

To respond or not to respond, that is the question. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all received one of those emails before. You know, the ones that seem like a waste of a virtual tree to reply to with a simply “ok” or “thanks,” but you can’t help but wonder what the sender is thinking when they don’t get a response back from you. According to Lizzie Post, etiquette expert from the Emily Post Institute and author of How Do You Work This Life Thing?, although not every email requires a response, you should “make an effort to get back to someone who needs to know that you got their email.” For instance, when scheduling an interview through email, make sure you respond that you understand when it is and where you need to be. Post also advises to “find your own emailing voice. ” Instead of replying with a simple yes or no, try to include a personal note with it. For instance, if a company recently emailed you to inform you that they received your resume, reply with something like: “Thank you so much for letting me know! I met with representatives from your company last fall at our career fair, and I look forward to meeting with them again at my interview.” Including something more personal than a general phrase of acknowledgement will instantly make you seem more personable (and more desirable to hire!).  It will take you all of 30 seconds to respond, and you never know what difference it could make.

DON’T address somebody directly if you don’t know if they are a Mrs./ Ms./Mr./etc.

There are a few things in life that you should never take a guess on: a woman’s age (let’s face it), anyone’s weight and whether or not somebody is a man or a woman—that goes for both in real life and cyber-space. Case in point: there are few things more awkward than addressing an email to Mr. Riggins, and arriving at your interview to find out that Mr. Riggins is really Ms. Riggins. Needless to say, “Oops.” Carol Spector, the director of career services at Emerson College, says, “You should try to get the name of a specific person for the email and when you are not sure of man or woman, you can address the email as ‘good morning or good afternoon,'” without including a specific name. This tip can also come in handy with gender ambiguous names (e.g. Sam, Jesse, Taylor, etc.). When in doubt, DO NOT GUESS.

DON’T expect immediate responses to emails.

2:00 p.m.: Hey did you get my email?

3:00 p.m.: Heyy I just wanted to see if you got my first two emails.

3:02 p.m.: Email me back when you get these first 400 emails!!

While professors and friends tend to email us back almost immediately after we hit send, professionals will normally take a few days to respond (they are busy after all!). Post says, “Never go beyond the point of being comfortable that you will receive a response in time.” At the risk of impetuously sending emails when you’re waiting for a response, Spector recommends, “You should give the person at least three days to respond for a message. If you are sending a resume for a job, you may not hear a response for up to a week or so.” After all, when they finally do respond, you don’t want it to be with a virtual restraining order.

Social Networking Etiquette

DON’T friend co-workers on Facebook.

If the question was “should you friend that creepy guy that stares at you in anthropology?”, the answer would be an obvious “NO.” But the virtual lines between friend, Facebook friend and co-worker are hazy ones. Especially as a college student, Facebook may not necessarily be the best representation of you at your finest. While it may be tempting to friend all of your new co-workers (whether you simply want to creep on their profiles or just want to finally break that 1,000 friends mark), Post says, “Coming out of college, you have to decide whether you want to make your Facebook social or professional.” Once you decide on maintaining a personal or professional Facebook, you’ll have an easy rule of thumb for accepting and ignoring Facebook friends.


DON’T accept your boss’s friend request. 

Denying anyone’s Facebook friend request always makes for a weird situation. On one hand, the next time you see the denied friend, they might wonder why you didn’t accept their request. Conversely, if you do accept it, they might do some good ol’ fashion Facebook sleuthing to uncover that wild frat party that you streaked at freshman year. For that reason (and many more), bosses and Facebook just don’t mix. On the off chance that your boss does friend you, Post advises that you, “Write them a respectful note explaining that you appreciate that they requested you, but you want to keep your Facebook strictly social.” Post also alerts collegiettes to make sure that you are NOT friends with anyone else from your office—unless you want a whole new sticky situation.

DO have a LinkedIn profile.

For most of us, there’s a good chance that our strictly professional Facebook would look like a social leper, boasting only eight friends and two professional photos of you rocking a power suit. If you chose to have only a personal Facebook, Spector suggests, “You might rather choose setting up a LinkedIn profile.” On LinkedIn, you can stay connected to your office and network with business execs around the world, without even leaving your apartment! One collegiette remembers, “When I first made my LinkedIn, it seemed incomplete and like I was lacking in experience…it actually encouraged me to get more involved on campus so I could build up my profile.” Especially for those collegiettes entering the business world, setting up a LinkedIn profile is a great way to showcase your professional accomplishments!

Cell Phone Etiquette

DON’T text with your boss

Texting is great. I would even go so far as to say that texting is one of the best inventions of the 21st century. But just like there are certain situations that you should not be texting in, there are certain people that you should avoid making a habit of texting with. No. 1 on the people not to text list is your boss. While Post says that the appropriateness of texting your boss, “depends on your company’s culture,” she also says to, “make sure that somebody above you in the office hierarchy texts you first.”

Collegiettes should also beware of the over-texting boss (seriously, these people should come with warning labels). This is the boss that will text you at all hours of the night, make Starbucks requests if they know you’re making a coffee run, and add enough little errands to your to-do list that you will wonder where your own life went. When it comes to these bosses, proceed with caution.

DO always answer your cell phone professionally.

I always cringed watching Full House when Uncle Jesse would answer his phone, “Talk to me.” Would you take anyone seriously if they answered their phone like that? And so, it’s important that you ALWAYS answer your cell phone in an appropriate manner. Especially as a college student, chances are you have only one phone for both professional and personal calls. Even with caller ID, you may misread the name or number and majorly embarrass yourself with a co-worker. One collegiette™ remembers: “I thought I saw my boyfriend’s name on my phone when it rang, and I answered it with ‘Hey handsome’…turns out it was my supervisor from work.” Spector suggests, “You can simply say hello unless you recognize a number from an employer you are waiting to hear about an interview from and you might say, ‘Hello, this is [your name].’” On the off chance that the call goes to your voicemail, it’s best to have a professional greeting recorded. Anything that you made when you were drunk or on a sugar high with your best friends should be DELETED immediately. Try something along the lines of: “Hello, you’ve reached [insert your name]. I’m unable to take your call right now, but if you leave me your name and number, I will call you back as soon as I can.”

DO respond to every text.

I’m one of those people who is never sure whether or not I should respond to a text. Whenever I get something like “See you soon!”, I never know whether or not to reply with “Okay!” or “Yeah!” After all, I don’t want to flood anyone’s inbox. According to Post, “If it makes sense to respond (if you think somebody may be waiting for a response) then respond.” You don’t have to respond with a novel, but letting someone know you got the message is never a bad thing. Spector says, “Especially if the text implies that you are meeting somewhere at a specific time or requires some sort of follow-up action later, always text back out of courtesy. For instance, if you have a business lunch with a co-worker and they text you that they’re running ten minutes late, a simple, “That’s fine, I’ll just peruse the menu while I wait!” gets the point across and lets them know you got their message.


Carol Spector, Director of Career Services at Emerson College

Lizzie Post, The Emily Post Institute

Anonymous collegiettes

Emily Grier is currently a sophomore at Penn State University. She loves all things Nittany Lions, however she readily admits to being a complete Connecticut girl at heart. There's nothing she enjoys more than autumn in New England, holiday lattes from Starbucks, "Gilmore Girls", and strawberry cupcakes from Crumbs bakeshop. Although she's intending on majoring in accounting with a minor in business law, writing remains a true passion of hers. In addition to writing for Her Campus, Emily has been published on the USA TODAY College Blog and is a staff writer for Valley magazine, Penn State's life and style magazine.  
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