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Is it OK to use emojis at work? Here’s what the data tells us

Is it OK to use emojis at work? Here’s what the data tells us

With smartphones becoming increasingly common, emojis are becoming more and more common in personal chats and text messages. But are they appropriate at work?

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that when people use emojis at work, it makes them appear less intelligent, less competent, and only slightly, if at all, more friendly.

We wanted to explore these findings by asking 560 individuals on SurveyMonkey Audience about their views on emojis in the workplace.

Hoping to use a smiley-face emoji in your email signature? Read on to see if it’s work-friendly.

We directly asked respondents: “Do you feel that emojis are appropriate or inappropriate to use at work?”

Our results? An even split.

The same percent of employees who think they’re appropriate also think they’re inappropriate to use.

The mixed views can be explained largely by age. Young professionals tend to see value from using emojis while older professionals see them as unprofessional and counter-productive.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown that explains each groups’ point of view:

Young professionals give it a 👍

Nearly half (46%) of young adults—18-29 years old—think emojis are work-appropriate while only 28% think they’re inappropriate to use.   

Not only do more young adults approve of their use, but many think they can be used to their benefit. For example, more than half (53%) use emojis to be funny, while the same percent see emojis as a way to better express their feelings.

Stat on why young employees use emojis

A few of our young professional respondents effectively summed up the sentiment:

  • "Using emojis in the workplace makes work more fun."
  • "It makes everything easier."
  • "Using emojis at work is OK."

Young professionals also see others in a more positive light when they use emojis. Here are some ways that emojis can influence their perception of a colleague:

Chart showing emojis' influence on the perception of colleagues

To put it in words, 50% find a colleague to be more fun, 43% see him or her as more approachable, and 35% deem the colleague to be kinder if they use emojis.

With only 17% of young adults considering its use unprofessional, using emojis with young colleagues may be worth it. 

While older professionals give it the 👎

Before you get overly excited and send out your favorite emojis, consider what older professionals have to say.

Professionals, 45 years and older, are more likely to say that its use at work is inappropriate—versus appropriate—by 14 percentage points.

A few older professionals wrote with particular conviction when discussing emojis’ place at work:

  • "Emojis are the height of unprofessionalism."
  • "They do not present an image I would like to present."
  • "There are more effective ways of communicating without lowering the bar of professionalism."

Older professionals often agree with the quotes above:

  • Only 15% think emojis improve workplace communication
  • 29% say it makes colleagues look unprofessional; the number jumps to 36% when upper management uses them
  • A combined 22% say it makes colleagues come across as either annoying, less genuine or less competent

Given the conflicting views of each generation, is there anything they can agree on?

Emojis with customers and prospects are a big no-no

Have you ever gotten an email from one of your favorite brands that included an emoji? Employees of all ages think it’s best to stay away from using emojis with both prospects and customers.

Employees are more than four times as likely to disapprove—versus approve—of the use of emojis with this audience (45% vs. 11%).

emoji stat

Roughly a third find its use with this audience unprofessional, while less than 20% say it either helps the organization be more approachable (19%) or appear more fun (18%).

Given everything we've learned, what are the key takeaways about using emojis at work?

✓ Consider avoiding using emojis with customers or prospects

✓ At work, it's safest to use emojis with young colleagues—who also use them—in a private chat or email

✓ Older colleagues may be less receptive to emojis

Of course, we’re generalizing here. Since employees of all ages may have different views on the use of emojis, it’s best to use them at your discretion. But if you’re not one to take risks, it’s probably best to avoid them completely.

Were you thinking about using a smiley face in your email signature? You probably aren’t anymore.

Our content marketing guide will teach you everything you need to know about creating content based on original research from survey data.