Emoji’s are common keepsakes that are used to express emotion between friends and family members interacting with each other through various social media platforms, SMS texts and emails.

They usually make communication more lively and engaging with the people that are closest to us or ones we know well enough.

But while there are no restrictions to using these cute icons, you can’t really get that kind of freedom in office environments. If you’re including smileys or any other emoji in one of your work emails, especially if it’s being sent to your boss, is it going to help you build rapport or will your boss think it’s unprofessional? Do you think it would be a bold move to send a bunch of poop emoji’s to your colleague?

If you’re an office worker who’s thinking about the kind of emoji that would be appropriate for their office email or whether you should include them at all, we can shine a bit more light to your dilemma with this article.

Over here, we’ve tried our best to unravel the subtle nuances of using emoji’s at workplaces and work out the best course of action for you.

WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF EMOJIS?

If there’s controversy surrounding the use of emoji’s in work emails and other forms of business communications, then why are we so enticed by them? Wouldn’t be for the best if we just stop thinking about them?

The only possible answer we can come up with for this is so that we can convey our message better to the recipients.

This is especially the case when communicating with emails as they lack the emotional cues that accompany face-to-face or phone interactions or conversations. There is plenty of room for misunderstanding if we cannot decipher the facial expressions or tone of voice behind an email.

Messages that are supposed to be positive can be perceived as neutral and neutral messages can be perceived as negative.

If, let’s say, after writing a detailed and generous message to your boss resulted in a brief one-line response, then there is a chance that your boss may have been impressed with your work, but you can’t tell without seeing their face in a face-to-face meeting or hearing their voice through the phone.

EMOJIS USED AS COMMUNICATION SHORTCUT

If there was any semblance to the infamous phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,” it might as well be with emojis in a way that keeps communication brief and to the point.

A 2014 study reveals that we use emoticons in our emails to show the recipients how to interpret our messages rather than directly convey emotions. An example of this is when we include a smiley face after a line that was intended to be a joke.

But think of the possible consequences that you could be facing when you send a winking emoji to your boss. Are you trying to communicate more effectively or are you damaging the true purpose of your message?

EMOJIS IN WORK EMAILS IS A NO-GO

You may want to pass up on using emojis in your work emails especially given the discouraging results produced from a recent study called The Dark Side of a Smiley: Effects of Smiling Emoticons on Virtual First Impressions.

This one observation from the study is the most jarring one of all:

“….unlike actual smiles, smileys do not necessarily convey feelings of warmth, but in fact, decrease feelings of competence. This, as a result, undermined information sharing.”

The study consists of three experiments and was conducted by Arik Cheshin from the University of Haifa, Ella Glikson from Ben-Gurion University and Gerben A. van Kleef from the University of Amsterdam.

In the first experiment, 203 undergraduate students University of Amsterdam were randomly assigned one of four things:

  • A photo of a smiling person
  • A photo of a person with a neutral expression
  • A greeting text with smileys
  • A greeting text with no smileys

The students were asked to rate the warmth and competence of the greeting text and the person shown in the picture. The results found that students rated the person smiling in the photograph as being higher in terms of warmth and competence than the one with the neutral expression. Ironically, they rated the greeting text with no smileys as warmer and more competent than the one with smileys.

The second experiment involved 90 English-speakings people from 29 countries residing in North and South America, the Middle East and Western and Eastern European. Over here, the subjects had to read an email, rate the warmth and competence of the sender, write an email in response and also guess the gender of the sender.

The results found that including smiley faces in the email didn’t affect the perception of warmth, though it did lower the perception of competence. The subjects’ email responses to the original email that had a smiley face contained less information and they also assumed the sender was female, even though it didn’t affect the rating of warmth or competence.

Finally, in the third experiment, 85 US citizens who were recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, were told to read an email from a new employee to an unknown administrative assistant that included a question about either a social gathering (indicating an informal situation) or a staff meeting (indicating a formal situation).

The subjects were then asked to rate the warmth and competence of the sender. For the formal situation, including smileys in the email apparently had no effect on the subjects’ perception of the sender’s warmth, but it lowered their perception of the sender’s competence.

As for the informal situation, including smileys in the email increased the perception of the sender’s warmth but showed no effect on the sender’s competence.

In other words, using smileys or emojis in your communication with someone whom you don’t know very well may have them:

  • Not perceive your message as “warm.”
  • Probably think of you as “less competent.”
  • Include a less sufficient response to you because they might assume you’re incompetent.

The point of this study is to show you that using smileys in texts and emails may make you less competent and not seem warmer.

One thing to note is that these studies don’t use an excessive amount of smileys, like at the end of every word – possibly hinting that the sender is perhaps unbalanced. Also, the test emails did not put smileys in inappropriate spots such as “You’re getting fired :)” or “I stuffed pudding in everyone’s shoe :).”

Rather, the study simply implies that a merely including a smiley or two can affect how people view you, kind of a superficial way how one might judge you.

Still, it does present bad news for 76% of the American working population who often use emojis in professional environments according to a study conducted by the Kelton Global surveying 1,000 American workers with smartphones. The percentage of emojis used for that survey were:

  • 64% happy face
  • 16% thumbs up
  • 7% winking face
  • 3% heart
  • 3% surprised face
  • 3% sad face
  • 2% thumbs down
  • 1% angry face

Oh, that’s gonna sting! So given the information, we’ve got so far, does this mean we should exclude emojis from the professional field until the ends of time?

Not exactly!

You see, the same survey showed that 78% of the working community never felt emotionally connected with those they worked with and that 33% of them wished that they could better express their emotions during business communications. What’s more is that 75% of those who were surveyed expressed interest in using emojis in business communications more often.

The study also states that including a smiley can be a good substitute especially if you already have a relationship with the recipient.

So what do we make of this?

It simply means that if used in the right context, emojis can be pretty handy. And while that’s a relief, you might be asking yourself now, “what is the right context?” Glad you asked! Here is a list of the contexts where you can and cannot include emojis.

EMOJIS YOU SHOULDN’T USE

Here are the types of contexts where emojis must not be considered:

  • Your boss or any other superior
  • Someone, you don’t know well or don’t have a relationship with
  • Coworkers whom you have a rough relationship with
  • Clients
  • A more inherently formal workplace (typically one involving wearing a suit and tie)
  • A message about an unfortunate request or bad news (like adding a frowny face when asking someone to work over the weekend could end annoying the recipient instead of making them feel better)
  • Completely replacing words (using a heart emoticon instead of using the word “love”)
  • Ambiguously-worded messages (to the only solution to this is to write clear and unambiguous messages)

WHEN CAN EMOJIS BE USED

Here’s a couple of contexts where you can use emojis to build rapport:

  • Delivering quick emails to the team you’re really tight with
  • Coworkers if the workplace environment is casual or informal (like at most tech startups)
  • Someone who is cool with using emojis as passionately as you are
  • Using Slack or other professional apps to chat with your team

Here’s a graph that provides a better view of the kind of emojis that are acceptable and unacceptable:

Emojis

Source: CNBC

Still, one can only imagine whether the perception and acceptability of emojis will change as everything becomes more digitized and mobile and whether the ones who grew up with technology (millennials) can pave the way for change at workplaces.

Recently, there may be some glimmer of hope to that given the increasing use of platforms such as Twitter, Slack, and texts.

And with the lack of facial interaction due to the elevated dependence on electronic devices, people may want to connect emotionally through digital channels. Perhaps there may even come a day where we can write an entire memento using nothing but emojis.

Interestingly, the study has a number of limitations, some of which include the sample sizes, which are not large enough and may not even reflect the diversity of the people out there.

What’s even more strange is that the researchers didn’t even do a detailed report on the individuals, companies or professions in the samples.

Looking back at all that, it may be possible that the researchers may have had a selective bias against emojis. It’s not far from the truth because there are workplaces that are more welcoming of emojis than others.

Although not necessarily for those who are part of the nuclear program or also in medical facilities – can you imagine what patients would say about doctors putting smiley faces on medical reports?

TO EMOJI OR NOT TO EMOJI?

So really, what is the bottom line then? Should we use emojis or emoticons at workplaces or not?

Well, if you’ve never used them before or just don’t like using them in general, then it’s probably for the best you don’t poke around with them for any occasion, especially if you’re starting out at an organization.

But if you want to try and get into the groove of it, then start at a slow pace and don’t shy away from asking your friends, family members or colleagues at catching you up to speed.

Start by using the smiley face at home first, but don’t overdo it as doing so will have people questioning your sanity.

If you prefer using emojis at your workplace, get a feel of your company’s culture first and whether it is even fine to use social media, to begin with. Inspect what your colleagues are doing and remember not to go overboard while you’re at it.

Be careful not to just stick to smiley faces as every person reacts differently to certain things.

One colleague, client or boss might not mind smileys as much, but the next may not be so welcoming of them. That’s why it’s a good idea to tailor your pattern of communication.

In fact, it’s better to reserve those smiley faces sparingly and not right away. For instance, you can’t just put in a smiley for someone you don’t know by saying “Can I work at your company? :)” or “It’d be nice if our organization can serve you :).”

But once you’ve proven your worth to the company, you may be more comfortable using smileys with colleagues (and bosses possibly) more frequently than when you were starting out.

3 TIMES WHEN YOU CAN USE EMOJIS IN WORK EMAILS

Emojis are usually a staple when it comes to communicating with our friends and loved ones back at home, but when it comes to writing professional emails to colleagues, clients, and our boss, emojis are generally out of the question.

As we previously discussed, by adding an emoji or a smiley face to your work email, recipients may not perceive of you as either warm, optimistic, competent or serious.

So to give you a more strategic stance on using emojis in professional emails, look to these three most opportunistic moments:

1. When You’re Sending Logistical And Short Emails

There are some when we engage in a constant back and forth email exchange with our colleagues in a manner that is similar to instant chatting.

So it’s okay to drop an emoji or two or more in these situations since they aren’t actually supposed to be official declarations and since you know the recipient really well. For instance, “Are you having lunch at McDonald’s like me? :-)”

2. When You’re Attempting to Diffuse a Situation

During stressful moments, especially like when you and your colleagues are focusing all of your hard work and resources into completing a crucial project before the deadline, adding a smiley face to an email is ideal for boosting the morale of your co-workers.

Another place where it’s okay to include a smiley face would be when you’re trying to cheer a colleague or colleagues after getting into a heated debate or argument just so you can empathize with what they’re going through.

3. When Trying to Be Welcoming to Someone

New employees or recruits are basically people who just have to learn to get to know the place they’re about to devote most of their times too, not to mention learn its various norms and traditions about how things work around here.

But if they feel a bit uneasy on their first day, you can send them a welcoming email with a smiley face emoji as a friend rather than someone who’s just a professional wooden door that’s showing them the way in. A smiley face is a sure sign of saying “you’ve got a friend in me.”

CONCLUSION

So in retrospect, emojis are not universal and need to be used sparingly or strategically, whichever one suits you best. They must never ever be used to when you have to communicate with your colleagues, clients, and bosses about important updates regarding your business or in serious situations like meetings and conferences.

The only time you are open to using emojis is when you’re trying to diffuse a situation, welcoming a new recruit, being short and to the point and only if the recipient has a good enough relationship with you.

Should You Use Emojis In Business Emails?

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