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Emojis at Work: 👍🏼 or 👎🏼?

September 19, 2017

First, there’s a debate about whether the plural for the word “emoji” is “emoji” or “emojis” … This author prefers “emojis,” so that’s what this blog will use.

Moving on.

Emojis are visual representations of emotions, objects, or symbols. They used to be called emoticons (emotional icons) and were often created with punctuation marks and viewed sideways. :)

Now they’re called emojis and are pictures. 😊

They’ve long been used casually in instant messaging, social media, and texting, but now emojis are making their way into the workplace, sparking a debate about their appropriateness in business.

Some say that, like typos or grammatical errors, communicating with emojis could make you look incompetent or cause the recipient to misinterpret your message. Others say using emojis in the right context demonstrates your ability to adapt to changing trends and conveys emotions in ways that words sometimes can’t.

Why use emojis?

Written communication is notoriously problematic because it lacks the vocal intonation, facial expressions, body language, and emotional cues we rely on to interpret information from other people. Emails, texts, etc., therefore, are wide open for miscommunication.

No one likes being misunderstood or looking like a jerk, so we invented ways to overcome the ambiguity of written communication: emojis. But when you send a winking emoji to your boss, are you communicating more effectively or making yourself look unprofessional?

Here are our tips for using emojis at work.

Know your audience

Don’t use emojis when trying to establish a new relationship, whether it’s with a client or a colleague – keep it professional and focus on expressing yourself in well-written emails (void of emojis and spelling and grammatical errors!) that will build a person’s confidence in you.

Even if you have a relationship with the person you’re communicating with, think about the relationship – are they your boss? If so, probably don’t use emojis. A coworker you consider a friend? Go ahead with the emojis. A coworker whose relationship with you is strictly professional? Again, skip the emojis.  

Consider the situationemojis

In a message about a serious matter, emojis could go either way. Using them in serious contexts may make it seem like you’re making light of a situation, but if you’re sending a colleague disappointing news, a sad face emoji might soften the blow by letting them know you’re disappointed, too. Put yourself in the recipient's shoes – if you received an identical email, how would an emoji make you feel? Then, proceed with caution.


Work isn’t the place to experiment with emojis, so only use the ones you – and everyone else – understand. Thumbs up, thumbs down, and happy and sad faces, for example, are unambiguous and acceptable to use in the appropriate situations. Avoid hand gestures that might have disputed meanings, emojis that could be interpreted as flirtation or romance, and fruit emojis, as several have become double entendres.

(Just for fun, you can research emoji meanings at Emojipedia.org.)

To recap:

Don’t use emojis

(Possibly) use emojis

Instead of using emojis to describe how you feel, use them as context clues to help your recipient interpret your message – such as putting a smiley face after something you meant as a joke. Don’t learn to rely on pictures to describe how you feel, though; using emojis as context clues means they’re enhancements in written communication, not replacements, and you should always know how to convey your thoughts without emojis.

And no matter what, we advise against the pile of poo – even if it is smiling. 💩

How do you feel about using emojis in business? (And which plural do you prefer: emoji or emojis?) Let us know in the comments!

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Courtney Stallings
Written by Courtney Stallings

Courtney writes and edits content for Leading Results and their clients. She has been described as a Grammar Nazi and enjoys crafting writing with excellent spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

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