Emojis: Suitable for Workplace Communications?

Source: Pixabay

By: Marie Donlon

With a variety of emojis available to represent your every feeling—creeping in and out of our daily communications to express wonder, fear, relief, sadness, etc.—it should come as no surprise that their use in business communications has sparked debate.

There are several schools of thought concerning the use of emojis in business communications: some schools believe that they are ok if used sparingly while other, more extreme schools believe using them can lead to irreparable career damage.

So while there are no hard and fast rules about their usage, here are a few tips to consider before inserting them in communications to your boss, coworkers, or customers.

Casual Workplace

Is your workplace a relaxed one? According to research, that is exactly the kind of place that would embrace the smiley-faced filled, sentence-punctuating bursts of happiness (or other such emotion). But experts warn, even in the most relaxed environments, to not send these colorful faces and gestures to higher-ups.

With a Co-worker

If you are close with your co-worker, go ahead and use emojis in your communications. But a good rule of thumb is if the communication could later become part of a thread that includes others, such as customers or your boss, you might want to avoid using them altogether. Even the most innocent communication, when read through the eyes of a boss or a customer, can take on unintended meaning.

Universal Emojis

Are you communicating with an overseas coworker? Be careful if you decide to use emojis. Like language, the little yellow faces or gestures may mean something else entirely. After all, one man’s high-five emoji may very well be another man’s middle finger emoji.

Is That What That Means?

If you do not know what an emoji means, do not send it. At the beginning of the emoji-rage, I was guilty of sending the brightly colored characters to everyone I knew. Unfortunately, I had a favorite emoji: the eggplant. I would punctuate all of my text messages with the burst of purple color. Like a calling card, it made appearances in my text messages to not only family members, friends and a few in-laws, it also showed up in my work-related messages. That is, until I sent the emoji one final time: to my sister who took pity on me, explaining what the image was commonly associated with. (Psst: If you don’t know, look for an understanding friend or family member to explain. This is not that kind of article!)

You don’t want to suggest something unintended like rage or flirtation. Both of which might result in office drama you were not looking for.


In some circles, emojis are considered as offensive as a typo or grammar slip. If you know that the person you are communicating with doesn’t respond well to mistakes or to speech that has been abbreviated (using “u” as a stand in for “you,” for example), avoid using the figures.


If the image you have settled on sending to others might be confusing or send a different message entirely, avoid using it. You don’t want the recipient to confuse the intent, particularly if there is a directive or request attached to the communication.

Conversely, if you feel that your naked communication isn’t imparting your true intent (i.e., attempts at humor or commiserating with someone), send an appropriate emoji to better convey your feelings.


Many human resource experts advise against using emojis in office communications because they are viewed as unprofessional and childish. A dangerous association especially if you have never met the person you are communicating with.

A recent study from Ben-Gurion University found that those communicating using the images were thought to be less competent than those who didn’t.

"Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence," explained Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. "In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile."

Additionally, that research also revealed that study participants were less likely to divulge much information to the person sending an email with emojis than they did to those who sent communications without them. Receiving incomplete information in response to your messages could lead to stalled projects and an overall unpleasant working situation.

A Warning

If you feel comfortable enough using the symbols in your work communications, a word of caution: do not substitute all of the words in your message with emojis. Though you might consider it a time saver, the intended recipient will not as they go about trying to decipher the code. Not only will this create confusion, but others will be less likely to take you, or any of your future communications, seriously.


Business.com—Put an Emoji On It: Should You Use Emojis in Business Communication?

GrammarPhile Blog—Is it ever ok to use slang in Your Business Communications?

IEEE Globalspec—Emoji Use in the Workplace

The Muse—Using Emojis at Work Can Boost Your Reputation or Destroy It (Here’s How to Know Which)