Should smiley faces be banned from work emails?

Instead of making recipients smile, your emoji use might cause people to doubt your competence

Should smiley faces be banned from work emails?
In formal business emails, a smiley is not a smile.

That’s according to Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and lead researcher of a new study that found your winking face emoji may not be exuding the confidence you think it is.

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

The research team conducted a series of experiments with a total of 549 participants from 29 different countries, yielding interesting results.

In one blind experiment, participants read through work emails from an anonymous sender and were tasked with rating that person’s warmth and competence. Some messages included smileys, while others didn’t.

Unlike face-to-face smiles, which increase perceptions of warmth and competence, the smileys used had no actual effect on perceptions of warmth. More importantly, it had a significant effect on perceptions of competency.

"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 said. "We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing,"

So not only are smileys making workers and managers look bad. They’re also bogging down communication and workplace productivity.

Further, when the gender of the email writer was unknown, recipients were more likely to assume that the sender was female if it included a smiley. While the study found that this did not influence the evaluation of competence or friendliness, the clear correlation between gender assumptions and workplace effectiveness is interesting to note.

"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," Glikson said.

"In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender."

Related stories:
Are emojis ever okay in business?
HR missing an ‘out-of-office’ opportunity

Recent articles & video

Why emotional intelligence will be a defining leadership trait in 2024

Traumatic personal call? Employer disputes worker’s psychological injury claim

Pay transparency vs pay equity, and why it matters to HR

CSIS director claims senior officer accused of sexual harassment 'removed from service'

Most Read Articles

Are days off for Christmas 'racist'? And other religious accommodation questions answered

What’s ‘just cause’? Getting it wrong is costing employers money

Stay-or-pay clauses in Canada? Experts weigh in on the U.S. trend of charging employees who quit