Are we about to reach peak emoji?

Are we about to reach peak emoji?

Funny boy with smile pillow instead a head; Shutterstock ID 682241353

It had to happen: Emojis have gone so mainstream that Hollywood can’t resist. When Shakespearean-trained actor Patrick Stewart is willing to voice an emoji in the shape of swirled poop in multimillion-dollar box office flick, things have gotten out of hand.

As Stewart adds his talent to “The Emoji Movie,” it’s clear that emoji use is on the rise across the board—there’s even an emoji Bible translation, for goodness’ sake. Corporations are also getting into the act, increasing their usage during marketing campaigns by more than 600 percent to 800 million emoji-based messages between 2015 and 2016.

Sure, emojis can be fun when tossed into personal messages and emails, but they’re causing serious problems in the workplace. We’re slowly losing the ability to effectively communicate while gaining efficiency, but replacing actual conversations with cutesy symbols isn’t the answer.

Winks belong outside the workplace

Think it’s impossible for an image to kill workplace communication, destroy colleague relationships, or create major hiccups? Not only is it possible, but it’s happening across industry sectors daily. A whopping 3 out of 4 people admit to using emojis professionally—it’s unsurprising but still dismaying, especially for bosses. An OfficeTeam survey noted 40 percent of executive-level supervisors gave emojis a distinct frowny face.

What’s the problem? It’s simple: Emojis just aren’t professional. Of course, there’s a time and place for mood-lightening iconography. But work requires balance and professional maturity. A corporate atmosphere demands structure and a culture representative of competence and expertise — and a smiley face with popping heart eyes doesn’t measure up.

Consider a situation in which you worked diligently for weeks on a project. You lost sleep, gave it your all, and totally owned the process. Imagine that all you received in response was a single thumbs-up emoji from your leadership team. That’s it. Thumbs-up — or is it a complete thumbs-down?

Talk about deflating a balloon. Why wouldn’t your colleagues or managers take the time to send a quick message of appreciation for your efforts? Instead, you got an emoji that took a millisecond to send. How likely are you to put forth the hours, dedication, and sweat equity the next time?

4 emoji woes and how to avoid them

Every one of us is bound to run face-to-face into a job-related emoji scenario in the not-too-distant future. How we navigate the icon-filled waters will say a lot about our professional abilities.

Scenario 1: The dreaded winking emoji

The chat starts off with an employee asking her boss if she can take a few days off to attend an out-of-town surprise birthday event. The boss answers with, “Shouldn’t be a problem,” followed by a winking smiley emoji.

Then, the floodgates to emoji Hades erupt. The employee responds, “Thank you — I can’t wait,” and closes with two beer steins performing a floating “cheers” and a dancing emoji female in a provocative red dress.

How is the supervisor supposed to interpret this? Does it mean the employee plans to get intoxicated and dance on tables? Or is she inviting the boss out to knock back a few brews? Simply put, a supervisor is not a “bro” or “BFF.” He or she needs to be treated with respect. Two beer symbols and a gyrating lass are unacceptable responses.

Instead of a series of emojis, try this more appropriate response: “Thank you. I’ll make sure my work is up-to-date before leaving tomorrow.” No emojis necessary.

Scenario 2: The infamous poop emoji

Is there an appropriate time to use a poop emoji at work? No, no, and no. No one wants to know if you feel like poop. No one wants to hear their work is poop. In fact, no one wants to think about poop at work at all.

If you wouldn’t say you feel like “sh*t,” someone’s project is “sh*t,” or your pay is “sh*t,” don’t hide behind a smiling pile of it in your communication.

The next time it seems appropriate to use the poop emoji, consider using words your grandma wouldn’t be embarrassed hearing. Try, “I’m not feeling well,” “This draft is a bit disappointing,” or “I feel my pay doesn’t reflect my value to the company.”

Scenario 3: Unicorns, laughing devils, flags from Communist countries, etc.

Unless you are trying to communicate to an IT supervisor it would take a unicorn carrying a Soviet flag running through the gates of hell to debug a program, save the more off-the-wall emojis for personal communications. Even then, you won’t find yourself using them very often.

The only exception might be in a high-stress environment where levity is needed, but even that’s a long shot. You’re better off sticking to a work-appropriate joke.

Scenario 4: That telltale heart emoji

Relying on juvenile symbols like the heart emoji isn’t working smarter or harder. Plus, it could end in a human resources nightmare.

Imagine what could happen if someone took the heart emoji the wrong way: An employee might send one to his or her boss intending to express appreciation for a raise, but the married boss might interpret that big, red heart a bit differently.

Resist the urge to hit the heart. Opt instead for a few sincere lines: “Thanks so much for the positive review and the pay raise. I really enjoy working for the company.”

It’s time for everyone to step back and use words, not symbols. There’s no substitute for looking someone in the eyes and speaking from the heart. Short messages with symbols might feel efficient, but symbols can convey a host of alternate meanings, regardless of intent. No one, though, has ever misinterpreted a heartfelt “Thank you.”

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