Brian Blum
August 16, 2017

Smileys have become part of our email landscape at home and at work. Adding an emoticon of a little wink or a big grin at the end of a sentence can help make a good impression, right?

Not necessarily. A new Israeli-Dutch study has found that, for work-related emails, smileys can actually harm the person who includes them, creating a negative overall impact.

“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,” the researchers discovered.

“For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, was conducted by Prof. Arik Cheshin of the department of human services at the University of Haifa, Prof. Ella Glikson of the Faculty of Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Prof. Gerben van Kleef of Amsterdam University.

Prof. Arik Cheshin from the University of Haifa. Photo: courtesy

The research included 549 participants from 29 countries who were asked to read work-related emails from someone they did not know. They were then asked to evaluate the competence and warmth of the person who sent the email. Some of the emails related to formal work matters, while others related to more social issues, such as a workplace party invitation.

The text of the messages was the same, but only some of the emails included smileys. Some also included a smiling photograph of the sender. For the emails without photographs, gender was not specified in the text, in order not to influence the results.

The results:

— An email with a photograph of a smiling sender was perceived as more “competent and friendly” in work-related communications.

— A work email with a smiley was perceived as “less competent.”

— An email with a smiley sent in a less formal communication (such as a party invitation) was perceived as “more friendly,” but did not influence the recipient’s evaluation of the sender’s competence.

— Including a smiley in a work-related email resulted in shorter and less detailed responses.

— Recipients were more likely to assume that the sender was a woman if the email included a smiley.

The bottom line: save your smileys for Facebook.

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