Emojis in the Workplace – A Cautionary Tale

Emojis have quietly crept into the workplace over the last several years , particularly as the use of text messaging for work-related communications has increased.

As more and more employees express their thoughts with symbols instead of words, what’s an employer to do?

Using emojis in work-related communications can be a creative and fun way for employees to express themselves , but it also presents some concerns  that could lead to conflicts, both within the workplace and with customers/clients.  For example:

  • What if I use the angry emoji in a text to my co-worker to express that I am upset about a difficult project at work, but my co-worker thinks it means I am mad at him/her?
  • A male employee sends a series of happy face emojis to a female co-worker, which she acknowledges. He then begins sending “blowing a kiss” emojis to her, which she doesn’t respond to, yet he continues to send.  Could this be evidence of sexual harassment?
  • An employee sends an emoji to a customer in a foreign country. The emoji is well-accepted and understood in our culture.  But what if, unbeknownst to the employee sending the emoji, the same emoji is considered offensive in the customer’s culture?

We’re not suggesting that you ban emojis from your workplace.  But, as with any emerging workplace communication tool, emojis can be misused.  So, a few words to the wise:

  • Although there’s not a legal requirement to do so, consider addressing the use of emojis in your company’s workplace communications policy.
  • Since emojis are more commonly used in text messages, consider whether to restrict the use of text messaging as a workplace communications tool.
  • In your employee training sessions, remind employees about the importance of exercising good judgment in all work-related communications and that what they intend as the message behind an emoji may not necessarily be perceived in the same way by the recipient.
  • Consider putting in place more stringent rules around the use of emojis in external communications, e.g. with customers, suppliers, governmental agencies, etc.

And good luck 

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