I’m known for using the occasional emoji. (For those not in the know, an emoji is the little symbol (normally a little yellow face) which communicates emotion in text and email messages.)
Having just reviewed my “most frequently used” emojis on my iPhone, I can report that my most popular include a penguin (no surprise to those who know me), a horse (to advertise Martin Malone’s recent horse racing-related employment law blog, which can be found here), a bride (due to hitting wedding-planning crisis mode due to my wedding being just 2 months away), an umbrella (for obvious reasons) and a steaming coffee cup (for even more obvious reasons).
In saying this, however, I’ve never actively used emojis at work. Why? I just don’t think they’re very professional. There will be exceptions, such as internal emails to colleagues who you have a close and/or long-term friendship with but, on the whole, I don’t believe many of my clients would expect or require a smiley face at the end of my emails. I think emoji use creates a real risk of emails being misconstrued and/or considered condescending.
And, rather bizarrely, it appears that science agrees with me. The Social Psychological and Personality Science journal has just published the results of a study focusing on the perception of people who use emojis in work emails. Put simply, the vast majority viewed the senders of emails containing just one emoji as less competent at their job. Is this true in practice?
I know a great deal of pepole who won’t be shocked at that in the slightest. In fact, I know of many contacts and clients who would query the use of a smiley face (or otherwise) in a professional email simply because it doesn’t appear very professional.
On the other hand, many people I know, particularly those below 30 years old, wouldn’t bat an eyelid unless the emoji use was over-the-top (like below) and, instead, would echo the comments of some within the scentific study by viewing the sender as having a slightly warmer personality.
It’s a similar debate to the whole ‘do professionals need to wear ties anymore to be smart’ scenario. It all comes down to the level of formality expected in a certain situation. Richard Branson, for example, is known for carrying a pair of scissors ready to cut ties off his staff members, such is his hatred for their forced formality. Many others rally against the trend of open collars with no ties as business becoming too informal.
As with most situations, in reality, it’s all a question of balance. So, let’s take a look at three examples of emoji use: the good, the bad and the cringeworthy.
The good – Using a smiley face (note: just the one) at the end of an email to someone you already have an informal, friendly relationship with. I.e. “I look forward to hearing from you soon. Kind regards 🙂 Tom”
Obviously, this will leap towards ‘the bad’ designation if you’ve never spoken to that person before or use more than one emoji!
The bad – Using inappropriate emojis which don’t suit the tone of the email or, alternatively, using an emoji in a serious email. I.e. “I’m sorry to hear your dog died yesterday but I expect you in work tomorrow 🙂 Sally” or “I regret to inform you that I’ll be providing you with a disciplinary hearing invitation letter tomorrow :/ Sam”.
You’d think that these types of emails are extremely rare and unknown but, actually, many managers have been caught out by trying to use emojis to ‘lighten’ the impact of an email and failing spectacularly. Some situations even lead to grievance against the sender, so beware! As my old football coach used to say: if in doubt, cut it out.
The cringeworthy – And, finally, the downright awful. Again, this doesn’t mean that the intention of the emoji user is poor, just that the execution itself has failed. The best example of this I can think of is a former contact who used to finish their sentences with a smiley face. Every single sentence. That meant that emails looked like this: “Hi Tom 🙂 I hope you’re well 🙂 I’ll get my response to your questions back soon 🙂 It may take me a few days 🙂 I hope that’s okay 🙂 Thanks 🙂 Sharon :)”.
Now, firstly, I’ve changed their name and, secondly, even in a short email, it was not only overpowering but actually made the email (particularly their lengthier emails) hard to read. Did I make a judgment about their competence? No, I didn’t. Did I dislike receiving emails from them? Unfortunately, yes.
So, there we go. Personally, I’ll be keeping my penguin, steaming coffee cup and bride emojis very much to my text messages and social media rather than my work emails. I’m pretty sure that will make my clients extremely 🙂 (sorry!)