Emojis Cause Workplace Confusion

A whopping 71 percent of Americans add digital images such as emojis or GIFs when using mobile messaging apps. While such use may not cause ☹️ when sent between friends, the practice is causing many a 😰 in HR departments across American businesses. Why? The cutesy icons have now become evidence in certain workplace lawsuits. 😩

The problem lies in emojis’ inherent subjectivity—what’s funny to you may be offensiveto me. Perhaps that is why 39 percent of senior managers surveyed by Robert Half said that using emojis was unprofessional. However, in the same survey, 61 percent stated that using the images in work communication was okay “in certain situations.”

Clearly, a lack of consensus about if and when to use digital images pervades the workplace, and researchers are investigating just how the ubiquitous icons can cause chaos. Some findings show that emoji use affects the sender’s workplace persona by conveying a lack of seriousness. In fact, researchers in Israel found that use of emojis increased the perception of a sender’s incompetence. However, the data also found those reactions tend to be influenced by the level of formality in the communication, once again leaving emoji use problematical.

Even more serious, however, is that emojis have exacerbated sexual harassment issues, says Kelly Hughes, an attorney at the national legal firm Ogletree Deakins. Employees sending messages rife with heart or kissy face emojis open themselves up to harassment charges by creating what could be interpreted as a hostile work environment. This is especially true if the emojis are used to convey inappropriate thoughts. These types of messages end up putting employers at risk because workplace communication can be used as evidence in lawsuits against organizations.

It’s no wonder employers are 😩.


  1. Describe an acceptable situation for sending a message with an emoji to your boss.
  2. List some emojis that could be misinterpreted.
  3. Should firms create policies controlling the use of emojis in business communication?

–From Workforce

1 thought on “Emojis Cause Workplace Confusion

  1. Chris

    🙄 if your workplace doesn’t know who to communicate, it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.

    I use emojis all the time. If anyone is offended, it’s not my problem. It’s theirs.


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