Congratulations! You’re famous. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other websites have catapulted all of us into the limelight of our own social-networking universe. But this “fame” comes at a high price. While you don’t have to worry about paparazzi hanging from your trees and selling compromising photos of you to US Weekly, you do have to worry what photos your friends snapped of you at Happy Hour last night. If you’re a great employee, should it matter what you do in your free time? Does it matter that you listen to Metallica, watch TMZ, support gun rights, voted for Obama, and are Protestant? It turns out, yes.
Representative Anthony Weiner’s lewd photo Twitter scandal is just one example of how your other 8 hours — the time you are not sleeping or working — can affect your work life. No matter how hard you try to erect a firewall between your work life and your personal life, there will be spillover. Sometimes this life-to-work spillover can be positive, but as we’ve seen with Anthony Weiner and the countless others before him (and the many more sure to follow), who you are and what you do during your “free” time can be quite costly.
Psychologists have long known that we like others who are similar to us. All else being equal, you’re more likely to do business with someone that shares some of your values, interests, hobbies, friendships, and even zip code. Consciously you may remark, “I trust this person,” while unconsciously thinking, “because she is so similar to me.”
But if you use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites, you may be at risk of losing your job or clients. Think I’m overreacting? Even though social media is supposed to bring people together, jobs have been lost, deals have been squashed, and relationships have ended because of Facebook and other sites. And just because you don’t have lewd or drunken photos of yourself doesn’t mean you are safe — seemingly innocuous information can destroy your work life.
Read these vignettes and think about what you would do or think:
- You’ve met a new financial planner who seems knowledgeable and trustworthy. You visit his LinkedIn profile and discover he’s a die-hard Sarah Palin fan.
- You’ve had a good relationship with your business attorney for about six months, but you notice on his Facebook profile he “Liked” a TMZ story on Lindsay Lohan.
- You’ve been waiting two days for a call back from your psychiatrist, but you noticed she’s posted several updates to her LinkedIn profile since you left your message.
- You’ve donated several thousand dollars to a small charity after the founder practically begged you. When you review the founder’s Facebook profile, you see photos of her most recent and lavish 21-day cruise through Europe.
- On your CPA’s Facebook profile, you learn he is a fan of Lady Gaga, gun control, Glee, unions, and Nancy Pelosi.
- You’re thinking about investing $50,000 into a local start-up. After reviewing his Twitter feed, you notice he is a fan of a gansta rapper that has been criticized for misogynistic and anti-cop messages.
Did you have a reaction when you read any of these? Did your impression of the person change? For the better? For the worse? If you had a response to any of these vignettes, you’ve just experienced the dramatic (and maybe negative) effect of life-to-work spillover.
Who you are is becoming more and more defined by what you do, your hobbies, the music you like, the shows you watch, who you call your friends, your political affiliation, etc. The line between “professional” you and “personal” you is now all but gone. The first step that will allow you to operate in an ever-seeing and hyper transparent world is to be become aware that what you do in your free time can have unintended consequences that spillover into your work time.
Your homework is to review your Facebook page and remove any photos, updates, videos, comments, or information that would make you uncomfortable (or more to the point, unemployed) if you had to show your clients, boss, or future employer.
There’s nothing wrong with you being you, but don’t confuse authenticity with transparency. Just because you like to like to watch American Gladiator re-runs or think it’s funny to do the Macarena after three martini’s doesn’t mean you need disclose this on Facebook or post a video on YouTube. Now that you’re famous, be your own publicist. Create a positive public persona by highlighting certain attributes, interests, and skills while ignoring or downplaying others. Trust me; it’s good for you and your career.
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