Emojis at work - thumbs up or thumbs down?

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Emojis at work: When are they appropriate?

Are you tempted to use emojis at work? Do you know your 🙌 from your 👋? When would you use a 🙏? And why is dropping in a 🍆 or 🍑 potentially risky (and possibly a sacking offence if it’s in a client email)?

Emojis have firmly pinged themselves into our everyday lives. They’re a quick and easy shortcut to help show thoughts and feelings - and lighten the tone of a message - whether that’s texts, emails or messages to family and friends. And is a social media comment even complete without a couple of emojis, at least?

Recently emojis have sneaked into professional communications, too - especially since many of us needed to work from home because of the pandemic. So let’s take a look at the etiquette around using this digital language at work.

For people working from home, back-and-forth instant messaging replaced a good chunk of face-to-face interactions between teams. And in a remote workplace with less verbal cues and body language, it was inevitable that shortcuts like emojis stepped in.

After all, a quick 😊 at the end of a sentence can lighten the meaning of a message and prevent it being misinterpreted. A 👍 lets someone know that all is fine, or that you understand their last message. And a 😂 lets the other person know that what they just wrote is funny - without needing to explain why (or actually, even really finding it that funny).

It all ties in with the fact that how we communicate with each other (including at work) has become less formal recently - and emojis seem to fit with this general trend.

What’s your company’s emoji culture?

Before you put a smiley on the end of every future work message, remember there’s a risk that even one emoji in a client email could make you look lightweight, unprofessional - and possibly damage your reputation too.

It all comes down to your employer’s ‘emoji culture’ - which is something only you can judge. As a rule of thumb, companies with a more relaxed culture, with less formal ways of working, communicating (and perhaps dressing) are more likely to embrace emoji use.

If you work in a more formal sector it can be a trickier call. Let’s take the office dress code as a guide. As a rule of thumb, if you and your colleagues are expected to wear formal wear to work then emojis may not land well - certainly not to clients, and perhaps not even to colleagues.

Which emojis are best for work?

If your employer doesn’t balk at the odd emoji in team messages here or there in instant messages or emails, remember that not all emojis are work-appropriate - or safe from offending others.

In a nutshell, steer clear of things a four-year-old would laugh at (think anything lavatorial). And any fruit or vegetable that looks like the human anatomy is completely out. Instead, seek out emojis that are positive, celebratory and upbeat.

From a ‘lightbulb’ to show you’ve had a brainwave, to a ‘two hands in the air’ to congratulate someone or ‘folded hands’ to thank a colleague, there are plenty that can boost your image as a good team player with high levels of emotional intelligence (as opposed to an immature colleague who just likes fart jokes). Still, the advice is to proceed with caution - and only use them if you know the other person well.

In a 2019 emoji use survey run by software giant Adobe, 61% of respondents who already used emojis on a weekly basis said they use emojis in work as well as out of work - but most frequently with people of their level of seniority.

Emojis as a job hunter?

Is it ever safe to drop a smiley emoji into your CV or application form? At HR GO, where we meet job candidates every day - and speak to the employers who are looking to fill vacancies on their teams - it’s a hard ‘no’ from us.

Yes, an emoji could help show a bit of your personality but there’s no way of knowing what the person reading your message will think of it. Our advice is to step away from the emoji keyboard when you’re in candidate mode. Where your career’s concerned, you could be playing with 🔥.

More emojis

Need to brush up on emojis inside as well as outside of work? Find a guide at Emojipedia, here.

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