Ahhh emojis, the digital version of inserting some direct expression and emotion into a conversation when you can’t actually do it in person. We all know there’s a suitable emoji for just about every situation, and most of us are now perfectly adept at decoding the more risque emoji conversations (ahem). But when it comes to emoji etiquette at work, things are less clear-cut.


Emojis definitely have their uses. As Prof Sophie Scott (who speaks about the quirks of the human language) believes, emojis are a super important way to enhance human interaction by putting “emotional, non-verbal information back in.” She explains that; “it’s all trying to add back in the stuff that would be pretty effortless if you were face to face.” But when you’re at work, or crafting emails to potential employers and colleagues, is there any real way to slide in that super-smiley face? What about if you’re in charge of your company’s social media plan – are there any emoji faux pas you should know about? We offer 5 science-backed emoji etiquette tips for work below…

1. Too many emojis at work can impact how your colleagues treat you


OK we don’t want to alarm you but a recent study published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science and republished in Entrepreneur found that using too many smiley faces at work makes you look, well, a bit incompetent – yikes. The study claimed that “contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence.” The research went on to suggest that those who aren’t seen as competent have less chance of having their colleagues share information with them.

2.  Know your audience


Different countries have different rules when it comes to emoji etiquette, so if you’re working abroad, know that things could be different to what you’re used to back home and brush up on what’s normal before you go. Emoji translator Keith Broni (yes that’s a real job!) told the Irish Examiner that in France, for example, the heart icon is way more popular than any facial emojis. He also noted that a thumbs up emoji in Arab states is often seen as rude and that in the US, the peach emoji is used to refer to the posterior in more than 90% of cases (us Europeans really do just see it as a piece of fruit most of the time apparently).

3.  If in doubt – leave them out


If you’re just started a new role or have been tasked with firing out a few tweets on behalf of your company, check with someone senior to see what previous emoji protocol has been. If you’re in a super corporate environment or you don’t know your workmates that well, it’s probably best to avoid emojis unless told otherwise, or wait until someone else gives you the go-ahead. Zoe Hominick, Head of Business Marketing at O2 told Go Think Big that it’s best to avoid emojis “for anything formal (certainly not for a job application!), or while making a request to someone I hadn’t met before or didn’t know well.”

4. Emoji diversity is important, too

As brands increasingly look to speak to a wide demographic of people and meet diversity quotas, their social media presence also needs to reflect that. As Zoe Hominick stated; “It’s valuable to use emojis depicting people/relationships/families of all types, young to old. Audiences are diverse and we need to reflect that now.” But have you ever thought about whether or not your emoji use at work could be better tailored to your colleagues based on their ethnicity, or whether your emoji use could offend or upset? Writer Victoria Pendleton argues in the now-viral BBC video above, that using black emojis and gifs when you’re not of the same ethnicity is a case of “digital blackface”. Convinced? Or still need a bit of persuading? Watch her argument above.

5. Remember that emojis are a young person’s language (hurray!)


Remember that us millennials are the fastest-growing cohort in the UK workforce, so to some extent we get to dictate the social terms in our work place; employers and brands are always trying to tap into how our minds work in order to keep us happy in our jobs and sell us products. We have (some) power, guys! That’s not to say that you should be firing off crying-face emojis in the work email chain, or hitting your boss with the praise-hands in response to their requests, but it does mean that we’ll get to shape the office environment more than we think as 36% of millennials surveyed recently revealed that they prefer to use them to actual words! And author Will Schwalbe, co-author of an email etiquette book, Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better told the Atlantic; “The biggest problem about all electronic communication is that it’s toneless…people read negative tone into it”.

He continued; “Whether you’re using the exclamation mark, which we called the ‘ur emoticon’, or emoticons, or emoji, they all serve the same incredibly valuable purpose which is they take this very dull, flat, affectless form of communication and they make it cheerful, friendly, they bring a smile … They kick it up a notch”. In short, us young people love emojis and they energize work communication, so use them when neccessary, but always check in with your boss about the emoji etiquette of the office. Have fun with emojis at work – but not too much fun – OK?


Like this? How about…

A guide to email etiquette

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