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Still a Bad Idea: Smiley Emojis in Formal Work Emails

Do you include smiley emojis in your work emails? If so — and if the emails go to people you don’t know all that well — you might be undermining yourself in the eyes of your colleagues.
work email
Vladislav Klapin/Unsplash

A recent study from researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, University of Haifa and Amsterdam University showed that emoticons in work emails inspire a negative perception of the sender.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU, told Science Daily. “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”

'In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile,' says Dr. Ella Glikson.Click To Tweet

How Do Emojis Affect Our Colleagues’ Perception of Us?

The team conducted a series of experiments with over 500 participants in 29 different countries. One experiment asked participants to evaluate the competence and warmth of an unknown email correspondent. Some emails had smiley emojis, while others didn’t. A second experiment asked participants to compare a smiling photograph to a neutral one, and also to evaluate emails that contained smiley emojis.

Bottom line: while actual smiles inspired perceptions of competence, the opposite was true of the cartoon version. Emoji use had no effect on perceptions of friendliness or warmth.

“The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” said Dr. Glikson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Further, recipients were more likely to guess that emailers were women when they included emojis. (Perhaps they assumed that women felt pressured to smile, even when no one could see their face.) Fortunately, the perceived gender of the sender seemed to have no effect on the participants’ other assessments.

The upside? These findings pertain to people you don’t know. So, if you and your colleagues are in the habit of peppering your emails with emojis, you probably don’t need to stop. Chances are, they already know that you’re both competent and friendly.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you agree with these findings, or are you pro-emoji? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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