These are the emoji you definitely shouldn't be using at work

shocked woman at laptop
(Image credit: / Shift Drive)

Using emoji in your workplace chats could be fraught with more scandal and undertones than you ever thought, a new survey from Slack has found.

The online collaboration platform teamed up with language app Duolingo to survey global attitudes towards emoji, both at home and at work, and found some potentially alarming discrepancies among users concerning certain meanings.

It seems many of us may be using the same emojis we use to chat, flirt and gossip with our friends in an extremely unintentional way at work - possibly raising all kinds of issues.

Emoji risk

The study surveyed 9,400 hybrid workers across North America, Asia and Europe, covering a range of areas including emoji meanings, habits and opinions.

Over half (58%) of respondents said using emoji at work allows them to communicate more nuance with fewer words, with a similar amount (55%) saying emoji use can speed up workplace communication. Popular use cases included the "eyes" emoji for taking a look or reviewing something, "check green" to mark something as completed, and "raised hands" to signal a job well done.

It found over half (57%) of users believe messages are “incomplete” without an emoji, and over two-thirds (67%) feel closer and more bonded in a conversation when messaging someone who understands their emoji use.

Slack Hybrid Working

(Image credit: Slack)

However picking and sending the right emoji can be tricky. Around 58% of workers agreed that they’ve been caught unaware of specific emoji having multiple meanings, with younger generations overall more likely to say the recipient misunderstood an emoji they’ve sent (31% of Gen Z and 24% of millennials).

The most inappropriate emoji to send at work probably aren't too surprising, with the kiss mark (💋), the tongue (👅), then the poop (💩) emoji for your boss and the eggplant emoji (🍆) for your coworkers seen as the most unsuitable.

Several popular emoji were also found to be particularly tricky to decipher, with different groups associating them with different meanings.

The "money with wings" emoji split opinion between those thinking it meant a loss or an influx of money, with the "peach" emoji also flagged as potentially too flirty or NSFW. Surprisingly, the "slightly smiling face" emoji - one of the most basic around - could also be misconstrued, as along with its positive message, some users said it represented “deep exasperation and/or distrust” to them.

“At Slack, we love emoji,” says Olivia Grace, a senior director of product management. “They let people convey a broad range of emotions efficiently, and in a way that words sometimes can’t. As we continue to embrace hybrid work from digital HQs, emoji help people acknowledge one another, clarify intent, and add a little color, depth and fun to work.”

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.