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Do I Have to Accept My Coworker’s Facebook Friend Request?

And other questions you’d rather not ask your own HR Department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

A coworker recently friended me on Facebook. I, however, don’t want to accept. How do I play this? Complicating matters further is that I am friends with other coworkers on Facebook. — Charles S., New Haven, Connecticut

It goes without saying that we’re living at a time when personal and professional lives are becoming more blurred than ever before. Just look at how many business cards or work email signatures include social media handles for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s equally common to see Snapchat photos taken at after-work happy hours, or photos from company events posted on office Slack channels or personal Facebook or Twitter accounts.

To make these lines a little less blurry, it’s important to be able to articulate how you interact with friends and colleagues differently — e.g., “Friends are the people I spend time with on weekends, and colleagues are the people I spend time with during the workday and at company functions.”

Sometimes, however, a coworker won’t be able to see the difference; s/he thinks you’re friends because your team does monthly Taco Tuesday dinners together. Just tell them that you’re happy to add them to LinkedIn, which is your business-focused social platform of choice, but that you limit your Facebook friends to personal relationships. I’ve found that that distinction, if you hold to it, works well and is easy for your coworkers to understand. Be forewarned, though: Some colleagues are relentless and might continue to bombard you with friend requests no matter what you tell them. Just stay firm and bombard them back with your new mantra: “Friends are the people I spend time with on weekends, and colleagues are the people I spend time with during the workday and at company functions.”

The poor grammar in emails and Slack at my company drive me absolutely crazy. Am I just being a stick-in-the-mud who needs to get with the times by accepting that we’ve become a much more casual society — even at the workplace? Or do I have a legitimate beef that I can turn into a companywide initiative? — John M., Chicago
If only it were just poor grammar! According to a recent Business Insider article, issues with email include being too casual, rude and sloppy — all of which convey either incompetence or lousy first, second or third impressions. In fact, appalling email etiquette has spawned its own industry aimed at teaching basic skills for email writing. Check out Oxford University Press or The Downton Abbey Guide to Email Etiquette if you think I’m kidding!

But back to poor grammar. There’s no doubt that email has exacerbated the abysmal writing skills that most employees have in the workforce. More than a decade ago, The New York Times published an article entitled “What Corporate America Can’t Build: A Sentence.” Fast forward to today, and there’s still much hand-wringing about “Why Johnny Can’t Write, and Why Employers Are Mad.” So you’re not alone in agonizing over the right style, substance and tone in email messages.

If you’re looking for some help in your campaign for better grammar at the office, you should encourage your company to purchase two of the best books I’ve come across on the subject. The first is Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite by June Casagrande. The other is Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss; I’ve given a copy to every person I’ve supervised since the book was published in 2003. While it’s not going to make your colleagues better at knowing when to use “fewer” instead of “less,” you might find semicolons being used for more than a wink ;).

It’s that time of year again, and I’ve vowed that my number-one resolution is to lose weight. That’s not easy for me in any facet of my life. But it’s particularly challenging at work where everyone wants to eat out for lunch every day — usually not at the healthiest places — and do happy hour at least a couple days a week. It’s also wall-to-wall work otherwise. So how do I talk to my coworkers about my new commitment to a healthier life, and how do I ask my boss for a little time to work out during the workday? —Kevin D., Omaha
The obstacles you mention are very common in the workplace for those who take up the challenge of losing weight. I noticed, however, you didn’t mention several other minefields — the team meetings with doughnuts, the overzealous home baker who brings in treats every day, the guy who’s always selling Girl Scout cookies on behalf of his daughters and the free soda that many organizations offer. As someone who’s been involved with company benefit and wellness programs for years, I can emphatically say that for every step a company takes to promote healthy lifestyles (e.g., fresh fruit, walking challenges, nutrition guides), they’re generally trumped by everything else listed above.

Another hard truth: I’d also expect that your colleagues aren’t necessarily going to want to change their habits to accommodate your new commitment to a healthier lifestyle. That means it’s up to you to stand tall against peer pressure and decline invitations for fast-food lunches, after-hours beer fests and mid-afternoon snacking. Or, at the very least, to be the one to suggest a new restaurant with a healthier lunch menu.

As for discussions with your boss, it’s reasonable to present him or her with a plan that isn’t disruptive to getting work done. That said, be precise about what you’d like — e.g., a longer lunch or coming in later than your coworkers — and how you can accommodate others so it doesn’t look like special treatment. Most of all, be prepared to have a good answer for the obvious question: “Why can’t you work out before or after regular work hours?”

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.