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The Emoji Phenomenon Taking Over The Workplace

It is no secret that texting has become an integral form of communication in our everyday lives, yet nothing has quite taken the world by storm like the emoji phenomenon. It has almost become unnatural to not have a couple of emojis in most, if not all of the text messages we send and receive from friends and family, and dare I say, colleagues?

This new-age phenomenon has managed to wriggle its way slowly, yet surely, into the workplace, causing an uproar and sparking debates regarding the appropriateness of using emojis in the workplace or in a professional setting.

I am studying Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Westminster and undertook a year-long placement with the eBRAIN Study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience as part of my degree. During my placement, working in an office, it was intriguing to see how emojis are used in a professional setting. I’m now entering my final year and as a young person about to embark on their career, I found it really interesting to explore current research and become more aware of workplace etiquette regarding communication involving the use of emojis.

I think this is a topic that individuals of all ages can benefit from, as it helps bridge the gap between the younger and older generation, and how we communicate with one another.

This blog will delve into why there seems to be mixed responses on this topic, as well as provide an exclusive emoji guide for the workplace, outlining the most acceptable and common emojis used and most importantly, ones that should be avoided!

So, what exactly are emojis and why do we use them?

The word emoji actually derives from a Japanese portmanteau of two words: “e’’ meaning picture and “moji’’ meaning character. Emojis help express our emotions clearly during online communication and they make a great addition to emphasise and clarify exactly what we are trying to say. Research generally shows users tend to use emojis in positive messages and use them less in sad or angry messages.

Either way, the use of emojis has become the norm with regard to online communication. In fact, their popularity and ability to appeal to diverse audiences have led to many businesses incorporating these as part of their branding to relate to mass consumers.

It’s no surprise then that emojis have sneaked their way into workplace communication as well. Whether it’s to reassure a colleague they did great on a presentation 👍 or showing gratitude for their help on a project 🙏, there is an emoji for almost everything and the list keeps getting bigger, with new emojis being added relatively frequently.

How has remote work changed the way we view emojis in the workplace?

One positive thing that has come from the pandemic is the flexibility to be able to work from home, and according to Microsoft Design VP Jon Friedman, remote work has helped us move past the old-fashioned “professionalism” that perpetuated the idea that emojis were unacceptable in a work setting. In fact, there is research that shows how emojis increase likeability and make colleagues appear friendlier.

For instance, According to Adobe’s 2021 Global Emoji Trend Report, two-thirds of global emoji users (66%) like it when their colleagues use emojis in work communication. In fact, 71% of respondents agree workplace emojis enhance colleagues’ likeability, whilst 62% agreed it boosted their credibility.

These statistics show that emojis are definitely making a positive impact in the workplace and are actually improving communication between colleagues, as well as our perceptions of our colleagues.

How do different age groups view the use of emojis in the workplace?

A major factor contributing to mixed responses in whether emojis are appropriate at work or not tends to be age.

For instance, according to SurveyMonkey, out of 560 participants, 29% of individuals 45 years and older found emojis to make colleagues appear more unprofessional, whilst 46% of 18–29-year-olds found emojis to be appropriate for work and improve communication between colleagues.

This suggests a clear generational gap with the younger generation viewing emoji use at work to be fun and emanate approachability, compared with the older generation viewing emoji use at work as ingenuine and unprofessional.

However, it’s worth addressing the reluctance of older employees to use emojis as part of their online communication boiling down to them not understanding what some emojis mean. For example, according to Adobe’s 2021 Global Emoji Trend Report, 22% of survey respondents aged 45 and over admitted to receiving an emoji at work they didn’t understand. On the other hand, only 12% of 18–34-year-old respondents encountered an emoji they didn’t understand at work.

This suggests that perhaps a lack of understanding and information on emoji use, in general, may hinder older employees from engaging with emoji use, particularly at work.

Perhaps a quick and easy guide, which I will cover in this blog, would encourage this demographic to hop on the bandwagon of using emojis at work, helping bridge the generational gap and improve communication between older and younger employees.

Why the use of emojis should be encouraged in the workplace:

1) Helps convey emotions better — According to an Adobe survey, 74% of respondents feel that emojis make positive news more sincere and 78% feel emojis have a positive impact in the workplace

2) Create closer bonds with colleagues — 50% of respondents find a colleague to be more fun, 43% see them as more approachable, and 35% deem the colleague to be kinder if they use emojis

3) Helps colleagues feel supported — According to 2019 Emoji Trend, 91% of respondents said they used emojis to express support to others

4) Research shows that our brains react similarly when we receive an emoji to when we see a person’s facial expression face-to-face — This may explain why we smile when we see a smiley emoji on text!

Emoji Guide for the workplace

Four emojis to use: — Table designed by Maryam Matter, definitions written by Hritika Shrestha

Four emojis to avoid: — Table designed by Maryam Matter, definitions written by Hritika Shrestha

Emoji misconceptions and why context matters

As mentioned before, emoji misconceptions are understandably more apparent amongst the older generation than the younger generation. With regards to the emoji guide, it is important to note that emojis in the avoid column may be acceptable to use in some cases. This all comes down to context as well as knowing your recipient and if it’ll be received well.

Additionally, when it comes to emojis, the phrase “less is more” is a perfect way to remind ourselves that overuse of emojis is not an ideal way to go during work communication and even communication in general. Overuse of emojis can take away the impact of what we are actually trying to communicate.

Remember emojis are an addition to communicating effectively, not a replacement!

Emojis in work emails

It is also worth mentioning that it is better to use emojis sparingly in work emails or not use them at all, until you have identified the conversation style of your recipient. For instance, if your recipient uses emojis in their email, you can also assume it’s appropriate for you to use an emoji in emails too. More broadly speaking however, emojis are more appropriate to use in text communication in comparison to emails.

Most accepted emojis vs. least accepted

According to a study carried out by Fast Company, when analysing responses of 1,011 employees, they found that the most accepted emoji was the “Thumbs up emoji” with 71% of respondents agreeing. The least accepted emoji in the workplace at 22.1% was “face blowing a kiss”, most likely due to misconceptions and confusion over romantic implications.

4 quick takeaways from this article:

● The stats show that emojis help workplace communication, however important to bear in mind context and your recipient

● Make sure to familiarise yourself with which emojis are acceptable and which ones are not, to avoid any misunderstandings or confusion

● Older generations are more sceptical with the use of emojis compared to younger generations, so again, bear in mind who you are communicating with and whether emojis are necessary in an email or text

● Don’t overthink it! Although there is much debate around the appropriateness of emojis in the workplace, emojis are mostly harmless and light-hearted; they help humanise our conversations and bring emotion to what we are trying to express so the majority of the time enhance our communication with colleagues.


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