When are emojis in work emails unprofessional?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column This week, emojis and professionalism, taking leave while on probation and using a headhunter’s approach to get ahead.

Can I use emojis in work emails? They don’t seem professional but I am seeing more and more people use them. I wondered if I can use them these days?

I confess I love using an emoji in emails to convey tone or emotion. However, I’m selective about when I use them. There are many occasions when it’s not appropriate and I rely on good, old-fashioned punctuation and grammar instead. For example, if I’m sending a colleague an email about something that needs a thoughtful response to a serious issue, adding a shocked face with exploding head emoji is not going to help regardless of how shocked and mind-blown I may be feeling.

That said, suggests many leaders operating virtually can use emojis in emails and communications effectively as an alternative to physical cues. The same research warns that emojis can create an intergenerational and cultural minefield with some Gen Zs reportedly offended by smiley face emojis which can be seen as patronising. As a Gen X that was news to me! I will keep using emojis when appropriate to build rapport, and hope no one finds it patronising. If they do, I hope they send me a face with rolling eyes emoji right back.

I’ve just joined a company in a permanent role where I’m two weeks into a six-month probation period. I have two questions. First, I would like to take two weeks of leave – will this impact my probation period’s success? In the interview, they did ask if I’ll be taking any long leave but the international border wasn’t open at the time. Now, my parents, who I haven’t seen in three years, are coming to visit me. Second, is it rude to ask for information about a sponsorship visa even though I just joined the company? I’m not sure how to start the conversation with my manager as this is my first permanent job.

There are two separate issues for you to work through here. In regards to leave, I’m assuming you will be asking for unpaid leave since you won’t have enough paid leave accrued? That will need your boss’ permission and they might be concerned that you want to take time off right at the start of your employment. However it seems you have extraordinary circumstances given your family situation. Be honest about when you learnt your parents could travel to visit and when you knew you’d want to take leave. If your employer feels you should have raised this during the job interview to give them plenty of warning, you will need to address that.

In terms of your sponsorship visa, that is a more complex issue and I do understand why you’re feeling uncomfortable raising this so early in your employment. It’s a tricky conversation that may be most successful when there is mutual trust because your employer has had the opportunity to see how well you work and how reliable you are. The first thing that comes to mind is your current visa conditions – had you discussed this with your employer during the interview? I would advise you get as much information as you can from an immigration specialist first. The most important thing is to ensure you’re abiding by the law at every stage and being honest with your employer early about anything they may need to be aware of in terms of your right to work.

I had a headhunter get in touch with me recently offering me a new role. I said I wasn’t interested, which I am not, but it has started me thinking about whether I am being valued where I am. Should I mention the approach to my boss during my next review?

How you handle this could go one of two ways. If you use this approach to leverage more money or a bigger promotion, I think it could backfire. If you use it to confirm your loyalty to the company and a way to inform your boss about what is happening in the industry and key positions that competitors may be looking to fill, then that is a different matter. I think just letting your boss know, without any agenda whatsoever, is fine. But once you start telling them you deserve more as a result, they may get frustrated. What I know is that even when you are the most valuable person in a business who is constantly at risk of being poached, no employer likes to always be held over a barrel to have to keep paying more money for that person to stay.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to . Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a non-executive director, author and regular columnist. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Business School and former Deputy Chair of the ABC.

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