Not all modes of communication are treated the same in a professional environment. To explore workplace communication, 68 sample emails were written and each received feedback from 200 respondents. These drafts were written for a variety of storylines, containing different emojis, tones, and features. Based on the classification of these emails according to their different communication elements, we were then able to report on the perceptions of professionalism and efficiency.
With over 3,500 emojis In existence, we also surveyed 1,011 US employees to further examine their role in workplace communication. Are they appropriate? What are the most and least accepted? How universally are they understood by different generations? Read on for tips on how to communicate effectively in your workplace.
Appropriate? Or not?
Is the use of emoji considered appropriate in an office? Some emojis may be more widely accepted than others. But the short answer is yes, depending on the corporate culture.
- ???? Face with tears of joy
- ❤️ Red heart
- ???? Smiling face with heart eyes
- ???? Folded in four
- ???? Smiling face with smiley eyes
- ???? Hands clasped
- ???? Two hearts
- ???? Loud crying face
- ???? Face blowing a kiss
- ???? Thumbs up
Three in four respondents believe that the use of emojis has improved their communication in the workplace. The 71% most accepted emoji was “thumbs up,” which means approval. The least accepted emoji in the workplace was 22.1% “face blowing a kiss”, likely because it has romantic implications.
Just under half (45.7%) of our respondents even felt comfortable using emojis to communicate with their bosses. Different generations, however, seemed to have different opinions. One in 5 Gen Zers thought the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji was the most acceptable for use in the workplace. Meanwhile, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers had higher percentages of disapproval of certain emojis (i.e. “folded hands” and “smiley face with smiling eyes”) than their younger counterparts.
Older generations were more likely to misunderstand emoji use, and 22% of employees over 45 received an emoji that they did not understand. The relevance of using emojis in the workplace depends on the reader’s ability to understand the intended meaning. Keep reading to learn more about the most misunderstood emojis.
After reviewing a randomly selected email from 68 samples, respondents were asked to choose up to three adjectives that best described the specific email they received. First, let’s take a look at how these emails were rated in general. Then we will deepen the perceptions of their individual characteristics.
Overall, the top five adjectives used to describe these sample emails were business (19%), formal (14.8%), friendly (12.4%), effective (10.4%), and personal (6.4%). All of the above are positive attributes for a business environment. Mastering the tone of one’s emails can lead to greater trust and understanding between colleagues. Other less appropriate adjectives given as possible descriptors in our survey included rude, aggressive, unprofessional, and childish.
The first characteristics of the emails evaluated were the spelling and style of the paragraphs. Emails containing misspellings were mostly rated as 17.9% friendly. But depending on the severity of the errors, they can also seem informal (14.9%) or unprofessional (10.7%). Paragraphs included in the body of an email made it more professional (14.7%), while the absence of paragraphs was considered unprofessional (19%). Emails without paragraphs might be considered more appropriate if the tone of the communication was meant to be friendly or approachable.
Next, we assessed the perceptions surrounding the greetings from an email. The lack of a subject line was seen as unprofessional (19.5%) and even rude (17.3%). Additionally, without a subject line, the reader has no idea what content they are about to open, which can lead to unread emails, especially if the sender is not. recognized. Therefore, a clear subject line is essential.
Ironically, emails without a greeting or closing in the copy were considered friendly (16.7%) although informal (15.9%). The same was thought for the inclusion of emojis, with 19% of respondents classifying these emails as friendly and 13.8% classifying them as informal. Depending on the recipient’s age and company culture, some found emojis unprofessional (9.2%). However, it was almost as likely that an emoji would make an email more personal (9.1%).
The last of the email characteristics we looked at was signatures or lack thereof. Professional signatures contain more than just a name. Additional elements in the signatures may include the sender’s title, department, phone number, company name, and company address. Like its namesake, a professional signature made an email more professional (20.5%) and was considered formal (16.8%). Emails with a signature containing only the sender’s first name were rated as more informal (20.4%) and personal (19.7%), while emails without any signature were rated as unprofessional (18.5%).
Misconceptions about emojis
Do you really know what each emoji means? Respondents were asked to correctly identify the meaning of 10 commonly used emojis included in the key above. They were also asked which emojis they thought were the most misunderstood.
Of the 10 different emojis listed, only two: “face with tears of joy” and “face that cries loudly” were correctly identified by more than 75% of respondents. One emoji, however, was correctly identified by only 44%. The “folded hands” emoji has been shown by our data to be the least understood although it is not perceived that way by our respondents. Over half of those surveyed thought this emoji meant prayer instead of its correct meaning, thank you. Some even thought it meant clapping your hands.
Although the ‘loudly crying face’ emoji was rated # 1 for potentially misunderstanding, it was almost universally recognized (76%) as representing overwhelming sadness. Perceptions of which emojis were least understood again varied across generations. One in four Gen Xers and one in five Gen Yers thought the “loudly crying face” emoji was the most misunderstood. For Gen Z, “the face with tears of joy” was the most misunderstood (18%), while baby boomers rated “hands clasped” as the most problematic (16.9%).
To ensure that workplace communication is understood, it is important that you know your audience. Gen X or Baby Boomer employees were the most likely to misunderstand the intended meaning of an emoji, so sticking to basic ones is recommended and provide context by sending them an email. This gives the reader additional tools to understand and helps the message not to be perceived as rude or abrupt.
Professional communication with emojis
Emojis have become acceptable even in the etiquette of workplace emails. When using them, just make sure that they are appropriate and easy to understand in the context. In addition to the occasional emoji, professional and effective emails should include subject lines, proper grammar, greetings, paragraphs, and signatures.
Methodology and limitations
This study uses data from a survey of 1,011 employees located in the United States. Interviewees were subjected to a series of questions, including attention control and disqualification questions. 54.6% of respondents identified as male, while 45.4% identified as female. Respondents were aged 19 to 71 with an average age of 36.9 years. 22.6% of respondents were Gen Z, 29.2% Gen Y, 27.1% identified as Gen X and 21.1% as Baby Boomers. Participants who answered an attention control question incorrectly had their answers disqualified. This study has a 3% margin of error over a 95% confidence interval.
In addition, this study also used data from an Amazon MTurk Image Classification task, in which 13,600 respondents received an email sample each, which they then evaluated. These sample emails have been written to represent communications found in the workplace and have been reviewed by employees at various levels to ensure accuracy. These basic outlines were then adapted to include misspellings, emojis, and different tones, to find out how these small changes affect our perception of workplace communications.