Using smiley emojis in work emails could be making you seem incompetent Advertisement

Using smiley emojis in work emails could be making you seem incompetent

Including smiling emojis in emails to appear friendly might have the opposite effect

By Katie O’Malley  August 17th, 2017

Following years of schooling —where Pythagoras’ theorem, the French imperfect subjunctive, and the formation of of volcanoes were drummed into our heads on a daily basis — I think we can all agree that one vital thing missing from our education was how to write a professional work email. Constructing a professional memo and not sounding too needy/keen/unfriendly — aka professional yet friendly— is tricky business.

The business sector, team relationships, and subject matter all have significant effects on the construction of an email. But according to a new study, one thing we all need to erase from work emails is the smiley face emoji.

phone giphy


Researchers at Amsterdam University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the University of Haifa recently teamed up to analyse the effect of smileys and emoticons on professional communication.

The research was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science which explained that emojis rarely make a positive impact and, in some cases, can actually undermine what an employee is trying to communicate.

Dr Ella Glikson of the BGU Department of Management explains that while we may use smiling emojis to show an upbeat, positive and friendly demeanour, they rarely have the desired effect.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” she says.

The research involved recruiting 500 participants from 29 countries for numerous experiments that examined the effects of emojis on how people were perceived in the workplace.

phone 1

In one task, volunteers were asked to read a work-related email from a stranger and evaluate how they perceived the person’s ‘competence’ and ‘warmth’. Some messages contained smiley faces, while others did not.

Contrary to common belief, the use of emojis didn’t result in email senders being viewed as any friendlier than those who didn’t include emoticons. In fact, they were actually viewed as being less competent.

“The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to emails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the email did not include a smiley,” Glikson added.

However, if you’re currently cringing about a recent email you sent to a colleague containing the overly happy emoji or the upside-down smiley face, fear not because the study examined the image of smileys from strangers, not between co-workers.

And, let’s face it, we all can agree a smiley from an unknown sender is a bit odd, right?

emojis new fb2

In addition to looking at the effect of smileys in emails, the researchers also studied the influence of real-life smiles on office communication, and found a real-life pearly-white grin made a positive impact on how emails were interpreted.

For this experiment, volunteers were shown photographs of ’email senders’ with smiling or neutral faces, and asked who they thought was more competent and/or friendly.

The happier faces won across the board, suggesting being smiley in real life could lead to a positive interpretation of formal emails.

“People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” says Dr Glikson.

“For now, at last, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

“In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile,” she concluded.

*Deletes recent email to boss*