Smiley Face Users Viewed as Incompetent in Workplace

Alright, well it started out as a smart gesture–to add a happy face to written communiques to assure the recipients that your missive was intended to be positive, but over the years it has apparently degenerated into something else entirely.  More specifically, new research has demonstrated that recipients of work-related emails that contain a smiley face emoticon have an increased likelihood of perceiving the sender as incompetent–and also most likely as female.

The ‘female’ part is not all that surprising when one accounts for the findings of previous scientific research that indicate females tend to be the “social gatekeepers” in collective settings.  In other words, females tend to be socialized as the key individuals in assuring that relationships between group members are copacetic.  Females who have accepted this role might use the smiley face emoticon to assure that recipients are clear about the positive features of the written message content. But the ‘incompetent’ perception of the sender is quite another matter.  Are we to think that recipients’ logic goes like this: ‘Sender=Female, therefore Sender=Incompetent’ or ‘Sender=Incompetent, and is probably the type of person that with cursive writing uses ‘º’ to dot the ‘i’s’ and so is most likely a woman’ ?

Either way, the study findings reveal that communication styles in the workplace can trigger a host of risky misperceptions so no matter what your gender or your competence level, best to play it safe and leave the flair for your time off.



office flair


‘Smiley’ emojis in formal workplace e-mails could create frowns


A smiley face emoji and similar emoticons included in work-related e-mails may not create a positive impression and could even undermine information sharing, according to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence. In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”


-Dr. Ella Glikson, post-doctorate fellow at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management


According to a new paper, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers from BGU, University of Haifa and Amsterdam University conducted a series of experiments with a total of 549 participants from 29 different countries.

In one experiment, the participants were asked to read a work-related e-mail from an unknown person and then evaluate both the competence and warmth of that person. The participants all received similar messages. Some included smileys while others did not. The results demonstrated that in contrast to face-to-face smiles, which increase both competence and warmth, the smileys in an e-mail had no effect on the perception of warmth, and in fact had a negative effect on the perception of competence

Contributing to the ongoing discussion regarding the role of gender in use and interpretation of emoticons, this study found that when the gender of the e-mail writer was unknown, recipients were more likely to assume that the e-mail was sent by a woman if it included a smiley.


Journal Reference:  Ella Glikson, Arik Cheshin, Gerben A. van Kleef. The Dark Side of a Smiley. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2017; 194855061772026 DOI: 10.1177/1948550617720269