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Dos and don'ts for mixing work, social networks

  • Story Highlights
  • Do job-related Facebook friends really need to know details of your personal life?
  • Facebook user decided to separate her "friend friends" and her "work friends"
  • Expert: More than one hour per day on social sites is too much
  • Set goals for how you use sites and make your friends aware of them
By Steve Almasy
CNN
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(CNN) -- Lindsay Spencer was two years out of college and facing one of the biggest decisions of her young life: what to do with those Facebook friend requests from people she met through her job.

Spending too much time on social networking sites can disrupt work-life balance, says one expert.

Blurring work and personal friendships is prompting Lindsay Spencer to maintain separate Facebook pages.

"There's nothing on my personal page that's horrible," says the 24-year-old communications coordinator for the National Peanut Board in Atlanta, Georgia. "It's just that there are some things that are not work-appropriate."

Many of the job-related friend requests came after meeting people at conferences. Eventually they would find her by searching on Facebook and request to be "friended."

Initially Spencer decided to ignore the requests. After all, does a virtual stranger really care what her favorite movies are? Do they really benefit from learning details about her weekend leisure time?

Spencer's answer was to create a second Facebook page, which she devotes to work-related information.

This means she now has her "friend friends," about 400 of them, and then she has her "work friends," four, so far.

Spencer's modern dilemma is becoming more common throughout the world, experts say, as friendships with co-workers extend to our lives spent online after work hours.

Simultaneously, our computer time at the office is becoming an extension of our personal life, they say.

'Work takes place in more places now'

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, says Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York.

"No one ever forces us to go online -- we can shut it off," he says. "What this is really all about is an increase in information sharing."

And with the popularity of smartphones and other handheld devices, many people carry their work into their homes and are never separated from e-mail.

They also have the ability to stay in constant touch with their favorite social networking sites.

"There is increasingly less difference in work life and personal time," Levinson says. "We are coming from a time when there were very clear boundaries. That comes from an older expectation. Work takes place in more places now."

And again, Levinson doesn't think it's a bad thing to have access to all this information about work and co-workers.

Spencer, who has friended her manager but not her big boss, says she likes to think her co-workers are sensible enough not to put out too much information -- especially photographs -- on social networking sites.

And so far, so good. There have been no embarrassing images of drunken escapades, no status updates erupting with emotional outbursts.

Social networking sites have both good and bad uses in the business world, says Dr. Lynn Friedman, a clinical psychologist and adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University.

Face time vs. Facebook time

People can use the sites to make new acquaintances outside their departments and groups, and users can extend their networks beyond the traditional workplace, she says in an interview by e-mail. "It's a way to enter new professional galaxies."

But people can use the sites too much and as a consequence give less time to meeting with co-workers in person.

"In most businesses, it's optimal to mix social networking with real-life face-to-face interaction," she writes. "However, social networking can provide a springboard for identifying kindred spirits with whom one might want to do something old-fashioned like, say, having a cup of coffee. In an ideal world, it's best to relate to others in both cyber and real space."

Paula Pile, a psychologist who practices in North Carolina, says you need to be careful to make sure that social networking sites aren't encroaching on your office time.

More than an hour a day is excessive, she warns. Worse, spending too much time on the sites can disrupt your balance between work and private time.

It can also take you out of your family time with your spouse or children.

"If you are spending two hours at home on them each night, you are not available to your family," she says.

Set boundaries

Both psychologists advise setting boundaries between yourself and the people you work with, as well as your online "friends."

Friedman also suggests setting goals for using social networking sites and telling others about your limits to avoid hurt feelings.

She uses an example of someone who lets people know, "I don't do those things at nights or on weekends so I can have my time with family."

And Pile says to consider who you're corresponding with during your work time.

If they aren't people you would talk to in "real life," she says, you probably are wasting time.

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