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Emojis and Business Etiquette

Even some of the most straitlaced workplaces have taken a lighthearted turn in recent years with emojis infiltrating business texts, emails and chat programs.

Like it or not, those smiley faces, flags and thumbs up and down symbols have arrived on the business scene. Consequently, the etiquette of when to use emojis and when to resist the temptation to add symbols to text has become quite a hot topic of late.

To obtain a barometer reading about emoji use in the workplace, OfficeTeam recently conducted a survey of 661 employees and managers. The staffing firm, a subsidiary of Robert Half International, found that 39% of senior managers considered the use of emojis in work communication unprofessional. Even so, some 61% admitted their use was acceptable under certain circumstances. A majority of office workers (59%) said they refrain from using them or only do so sparingly while some 41% admitted they do use them once in a while.

The use of emojis in the workplace is growing. The main idea behind their incorporation into emails and work-based chat programs like Slack ties back to the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. These lighthearted symbols can help workers avoid misinterpretation of context and intent when they are dropped into communications, often standing in place of body language.

Dropping in a smiley face makes it abundantly clear a message is meant as a joke, for example. Likewise, a thumbs-up symbol can quickly indicate a message has been received loud and clear. What’s more, these symbols can serve as valuable ways to express personality in virtual workplaces where employees are unlikely to meet face to face, but still crave a sense of camaraderie.

Not-So-Funny Pitfalls to Avoid

Even as most senior managers accept and even embrace the limited use of emojis in business communications, their use does present a potential for problems, some say. With no formal rules established and their use relatively new in business circles, the possibility of misinterpretation exists. People who use them in texts, emails or other business correspondence may find their inclusion isn’t well-received by everyone. It is also possible that some might view their incorporation into text as somewhat juvenile.

While pitfalls do exist, there are ways to incorporate emojis into the workplace while avoiding negative consequences. Before including emoticons or even less formal language into business communication, consider content and context. Sending a smiley face emoji to a high-level manager who isn’t personally known or a client from an organization with a very formal culture might not be appropriate. Dropping a sad face into an email meant for a close coworker could be the perfect way to enhance messaging and meaning.

As business relationships transition from the face-to-face world into the digital environment, emoticons and emojis can help express intention, meaning and personality. Their use is growing in corporate circles, but just like any written material, there is a possibility someone may misinterpret it. Consider the recipient, the context of the message and the appropriate of use before clicking “send” to make sure emojis add value to correspondence rather than take away from it.

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