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Emojis in the workplace: Are they ever a good thing?

Does using emojis at work get a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ from you? Or does it all make you feel a bit ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? 

Love them or hate them, it’s pretty clear that emoticons (created using a combination of keyboard characters) and emojis (small digital icons) are here to stay. One US survey found that 76 per cent of workers have used emojis in their workplace communications.

Millennials, with their love of all things digital, are largely accountable for the sneaking rise of this trend, says millennial workplace expert Lindsey Pollak.

“A few years ago, emoticons were absolutely seen as very young and very personal, and not appropriate for the workplace,” Pollak says in an article in The Atlantic. “Over the past few years … I’ve seen emoticons become more acceptable.

“I still have very mixed feelings about the appropriateness, but I certainly see them more frequently not just from millennials but from all generations at the workplace.”

It’s not just Pollak who has reservations about the use of emojis in the workplace; if you are an emoji-addict, a new survey might make you think twice before hitting send on that email.

The research from staffing firm OfficeTeam found 39 per cent of senior managers interviewed think it’s unprofessional to include emojis or emoticons in work communications.

Of the more than 300 senior managers from US companies with 20 or more employees who were surveyed, 40 per cent said using emojis or emoticons was fine “in certain situations,” while 21 per cent didn’t see any harm in the occasional smiley face.

When office workers participating in the study were asked how they feel about these symbols, 59 percent said they never or only sparingly use them, while 41 percent send them at least sometimes.

“Emojis and emoticons are showing up just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean they’re always appropriate for the workplace,” Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam says.

“While using these symbols can help employees convey their feelings and personalities in written communications, they can also be distracting and appear unprofessional.”

Why do we use emojis and emoticons?

Because emojis can actually be really useful. The beauty of emojis and emoticons in emails is that they add some context to the message: Emails are inherently toneless, which makes it easy to interpret the text negatively.

A Scandinavian study on email in the workplace found emoticons were not used to convey emotion, but rather to signal how the information in the email should be interpreted. They found three primary uses: to express positive vibes; to mark jokes; and lastly to either strengthen positive statements or soften statements that could be misread as reprimanding.

It’s interesting to note that the most commonly used emoji world-wide is the smiley face. According to a report from Swiftkey, a company that makes keyboards for iOS and Android phones, happy faces make up 44.8 per cent of global emoji usage.  

In fact, researchers have shown that the same specific parts of the human brain that are activated when we see an actual smiling face are also activated by the combination of symbols that compose an emoticon smiley face.

Pollak, however, advises workers to be conscious of who the audience is before putting in that emoji.

“Frankly, I wouldn’t use a smiley face with any CEO,” she says. “I wouldn’t use a smiley face with a certain level of executive no matter how commonplace and acceptable they’ve become.

“You can make or break a relationship with one email these days, so you have to be really careful.”

Tips on how and when to use emojis and emoticons at work

OfficeTeam suggests following these five tips for using emojis and emoticons:

  1. Limit it: Use emojis and emoticons minimally, if at all. Going overboard with these icons could annoy others and muddle your message.
  2. Consider your audience: Be mindful of the corporate culture and your relationship with those to whom you’re communicating. Sending an occasional smiley face to a work friend might be OK, but probably less so when interacting with your boss or company leaders.      
  3. Evaluate the situation: Including these images can add levity, but it depends on the topic. Leave them out when discussing serious matters, as it can appear awkward or rude.       
  4. Stick to what you know: Don’t use emojis or emoticons if you aren’t absolutely certain what it represents and how it will be received. Some symbols can be taken the wrong way or have multiple meanings (like the eggplant emoji– just stay away from the eggplant).
  5. Just say it: When in doubt, rely on words to get your point across. Opt for in-person or phone discussions with colleagues if it’s helpful to see facial expressions or hear vocal inflections.

What do you think about using emojis in the workplace? Let us know in the comments!

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