Emojis. The popular ideograms and smileys that are used to express feelings and illustrate words over social media.
Emojis exist in various genres such as facial expressions, common objects, animals and world flags and are often used to visually represent a written message. A 2015 study from AYTM Market Research found that 48.9% of US adults have used emojis in social media or text messages and this figure is likely to be far higher four years on. Yet, while emojis may be a helpful medium for expressing a person’s feelings, some may question whether they have a place in a professional working environment.
Many professionals toy between the idea of emojis being childish and unprofessional or an easy way to signal tone. And this was parroted by Inc. columnist Alison Green. She explained that in most office environments, emojis are fine in moderation as long as they aren’t exhausted and used in conjunction with outlandish, offensive fonts and colours.
But ultimately, she said that the use of emojis should be determined by the office culture. “You want to be aware of your office culture; if you’re in a workplace where emoticons are just Not Done [sic], you risk coming across as fluffy or unprofessional if you use them.
“And you shouldn’t use them in a job search emails or other particularly formal contexts – not only do they feel out of place there, but you should be putting enough time and thought into the wording of these messages that you don’t need a smiley face for shorthand anyway.”
When liaising with colleagues with whom you have a solid relationship and you know relatively well, there is no harm in using an occasional emoji if it fits the context of the message and isn’t inappropriate. However, the line should be drawn when communicating with your superiors or with external clients and those you don’t know particularly well. But what about in a world of hyper-connectivity?
From another perspective, Benefex’s Chief People Officer, Kathryn Kendall explained that a controlled selection of emojis can aid communication at work. “We are increasingly reliant on electronic messaging to communicate with our colleagues and customers; the risk is that we lose the subtleties such as tone of voice and body language, and therefore communications are misinterpreted. A well-placed emoji can be the difference between our message hitting the mark… or creating a serious rift.”
Yet it seems that not all emojis received in a professional working environment have gone down so well.
Last month, HR Grapevine reported on an emoji incident which saw one employee removed from their post. An employee in South China was fired for replying to their manager’s message with an ‘OK’ emoji.
The employee who worked at a bar was asked by her boss to send over some documents using a messaging app. To signify that the request was understood and would be delivered on time, the employee responded with an ‘OK’ emoji. The manager then accused the employee of ‘poor discipline’ and immediately terminated her employment.
The boss wrote in the messaging app: “You should type out ‘received’ if you have received my message. Is this your way of confirming receipt?”
It is clear that the use of an emoji in this instance wasn’t welcomed by the manager, but this is not to say that all working professionals feel the same.
This boss isn’t the only person to frown upon the use of emojis in a professional environment. Andrea Lehr, a Brand Relationship Strategist at Fractl, told Business that there is no universal agreement on what specific emojis represent – and this can cause problems.
“Individuals bring their own personal experience to how they interpret an emoji, so although you might use an emoji with streaming tears after something you found incredibly funny, someone else might wonder why you’re upset.” There is also the risk of emojis getting lost in translation.
So, while using an emoji may save time typing out a long message to colleagues, they do have a time and a place. To avoid causing offense or having your message lost in translation, it may be best to stick to writing out messages long-hand.