A picture is worth a thousand words – and conveying something with an emoji can save you characters, and time. Our secret squirrel mascot recently ran a survey on its Twitter feed. Are emojis appropriate in the workplace? While it was a tie between ‘it depends’ and the jokingly ‘only this one 🐿️’ it is a valid question for the professional in any industry, but especially the more conservative (and serious) defense environment.

While emojis aren’t necessarily new, the ‘emoticon’ served as the primitive emoji. It was not commonplace in the office email exchange with no casual chat software, but it was there. It started with the : – ) and : – ( of AOL chatroom conversations in the early 90s. These simple gestures represented an important aspect of more people communicating through the keyboard: You could convey sarcasm by ending your note with a ; – ) at the end of your message, or share your ‘oh well’ feeling with the ¯_(ツ)_/¯ character.

Emoticons have evolved into the ever-growing list of emojis (est. 1999), but we don’t suggest you use every single one that’s at your disposal to write a message to your boss, customer, or colleague. We’ve talked about millennials making up a large percentage of the workforce, but companies are also adopting collaborative software tools such like Microsoft Teams & Slack that promote casual work interactions/conversation. There are even shortcuts to emojis on these platforms 😊

Whether you should use emojis at work really depends on context. Emojis are a new facet of communication that are open to interpretation, and also an opportunity to get you in trouble in certain cases.

SurveyMonkey decided to gather data on the subject and found that overall, what you think about emojis at work depends on your age. They asked respondents: “Do you feel that emojis are appropriate or inappropriate to use at work?” Their results were an even split.

If you’re on the pro emojis at work side, this list of questions can be used as a guide. These will help you decide whether you should hit send or if you need to take a moment to decide if the emoji is necessary, appropriate, or if the receiving end of your message would appreciate a full length sentence.

How well do you know the individual?

Emojis with customers and prospects are a definite, big no-no. Be mindful when messaging your boss, and especially with customers. If you don’t have a comfortable, laid back relationship with the individual, it’s best to avoid something that could potentially turn them away.

Is the person a part of a demographic who would be offended by a 🤑 face if you are announcing you made a sale?

You may be someone who is really into heart eyes emojis and winky faces as a way to express your gratitude to friends or family, but when sent to a colleague, these seemingly harmless emojis run the risk of being misconstrued and could lead to a sexual harassment issue.

Is the topic of conversation you are replying to regarding a complaint or another sore subject?

If an issue is the topic of conversation, do not send an emoji. It conveys a nonchalant attitude and that is a sure way to fire up someone who is already upset from the original problem. Unconcerned much? Emojis are increasingly common in workplace lawsuits, too. For example, in a termination case related to an alleged violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a supervisor sent a series of smiley face emojis. Counsel for the employee argued it was evidence that the organization was happy to terminate employment. It seems that it would be common sense not to do this, but obviously the supervisor interpreted her message differently.

Do you know what the emoji means?

There are more than 2,800 emojis, anything from expressions, to activities, to food, country flags, games, animals, etc. Many of these emojis are easy to misinterpret without context, so emojis should not be considered a universal language. For instance, the thumbs up gesture is offensive in the Middle East, and in younger populations, the eggplant emoji means something totally different.

The good news is that emojis are helpful for conveying emotion, but when in doubt, type it out.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 7+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸