3d heart and love with wings is flying on mobile phone in holding hand. social media online emoji icon platform concept, communication on application. 3d heart with wings vector render illustration
Image: Vector Stock Pro/Adobe Stock

If you’re not using emojis in your correspondence, they may not be as meaningful. Seven in 10 Americans feel that unless a message has an emoji in it, it is “incomplete,” according to a new survey ahead of World Emoji Day this Sunday.

The study by Duolingo and Slack found that Americans are more likely to find emoji-less texts or messages to be lacking, compared to global respondents (71% vs. 57%).

What are some emojis that could cause confusion?

At the same time, a quarter of Americans are confused about the difference between the Loudly Crying emoji and Face With Tears Of Joy. For example, when shown the Loudly Crying emoji, 25% said they use it to show they’re “crying tears of joy,” which was the same number as those who selected “sobbing/upset crying.” And while the emojis look similar, respondents should be careful in case they appear to laugh at an inappropriate time, the study advised.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

But there are other emojis that may cause confusion as well. Thirty-eight percent of American respondents said the skull emoji represents death, but a similar number (34%) said they use it to show that something is so funny, such as that they’re “dead” from laughter.

Are emojis appropriate for workplace communication?

With a plethora of potential meanings attached to emojis, some of which have multiple meanings depending on context, someone might question whether emojis belong in the workplace, but the survey showed there’s still a wide range of benefits.

Fifty-eight percent of global employees surveyed said using emojis at work allows them to communicate more nuance with fewer words, and 55% said emoji use can speed up workplace communication.

Notably, this was higher in the U.S. — 69% of American respondents said emojis allowed them to communicate in a more nuanced way, while 67% said it sped up communication.

Further, 67% of global respondents feel closer and more bonded in a conversation when messaging someone who understands the emoji they’re using.

Globally, respondents are three times as likely to always use emojis when messaging their co-workers when compared to their boss (21% vs. 7%). Even then, some emojis are off-limits — the Kiss Mark and the Tongue emojis were the top two to avoid sending a boss or coworker.

The Poop emoji ranked third on a list of emojis not to send to your boss, while the Eggplant took third not to send to a coworker.

And while the Eggplant may be misconstrued by a coworker, one-fifth of U.S. respondents (21%) said the eggplant is nothing more than a literal representation of the fruit. That said, 34% of Americans surveyed did indicate they use the eggplant to show they’re “feeling flirty,” and 14% admit they’ve confused the meaning of that particular emoji.

Overall, younger generations globally were more likely to say an emoji they’ve sent was misunderstood by the recipient: 31% of Gen Z and 24% of millennials.

How can emoji usage and meanings vary globally?

The survey also looked at how emoji usage and meaning can vary across different countries in the workplace. For global companies, results showed that emojis may be an easy source of miscommunication, as the meanings can differ greatly depending on where someone is from.

Globally, when shown the Money With Wings emoji, respondents were split on whether it meant a loss of money or an influx of money. This varied by country. For example, respondents from Japan were much more likely to select “loss of money” (59%) — compared to only 7% who said it referred to an influx, the report said.

When shown Face Throwing A Kiss, American respondents were slightly more likely to use it in a romantic than platonic way (34% vs. 26%), as were Indian respondents (52% vs. 27%). Japan was the opposite: Three in 10 Japanese respondents use the emoji in a platonic sense, compared to 16% who use it romantically.

The Slightly Smiling Face may not be as positive as some people think. While “feeling happy” (38%) and “general positivity” (39%) were the top uses for emojis globally, many people also use them to show “deep exasperation and/or distrust” (14%).

This more negative interpretation was more common in specific countries, including the U.S., where that choice had one-fifth of the vote. It was notably lower in countries like Japan (5%), South Korea (6%) and Canada (8%).

“Using emojis at work goes beyond self-expression, inclusion and culture to impact efficiency as well,’’ said Olivia Grace, senior director of product management at Slack. “Visual representation of tasks like team polls and sentiments like ‘I got this, I see it, I’m working on it,’ are much easier to scan quickly than their written counterparts.”

Grace added that “When you see [the Eyes emoji] or a [Green Checkmark emoji] you know exactly what it means faster than reading through multiple ‘I vote for…’ or ‘I can work on it if no one else can…’ messages.”

What new emojis will be released soon?

Meanwhile, get ready for more: 31 new emojis are slated for release in the coming months by Emojipedia. They include a shaking face, two pushing hands, pink, light blue and grey hearts, as well as a jellyfish and hair pick.

Details about the survey’s methodology

Duolingo and Slack said this random double-opt-in survey of 9,400 hybrid office workers was distributed equally across the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Japan, China, Singapore, India, Germany, South Korea and Australia between June 15 and 27, 2022.

Subscribe to the Executive Briefing Newsletter

Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays

Subscribe to the Executive Briefing Newsletter

Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays