It's finally your first day at your new job. You've arrived early, you're wearing an outfit you carefully chose last night and you've made it through the HR orientation. It's time to meet your colleagues, virtually and in person. You want to seem approachable and excited to be part of the team, so you smile as often as you can — right?
Well, yes and no. According to a new study from Ben-Gurion University, smiling IRL can help create the impression that you're warmer and more competent than someone with a neutral facial expression. Switch over to email, though, and things get way more formal. Researchers found that emails that included emoticons and emoji left readers thinking that the sender was less competent at their job, regardless of age or gender, without any positive or negative effect on impressions of competence. (Using smileys did increase the likelihood that participants thought the sender was female. Just FYI, while one 2012 study found that women were more likely to use emoticons than men, it had a sample size of just 21 participants, all college students.)
The study examined 549 participants' impressions of people's behavior through both text and photographs. The results can't be explained by one particular culture either — they came in from 29 different countries.
Millennials value a lot of intangibles at their workplace, from high-trust cultures to good personal relationships with their teams. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee that you'll land at a hot startup where everyone wears PJs and has meetings on beanbag chairs. It may be best to err on the side of conservatism at the office, whatever your personal communication style. Even if a smiley face may perfectly convey your meaning to your supervisor, consider holding off until you get a feel for your office and your coworkers get to know you.
If you find yourself arguing that language is fluid and maybe your office should consider changing with the times, that's worth the conversation. But ask yourself how much communication is really necessary for what you're saying. Asking about a deadline or where the coffee filters are doesn't actually need much emotion in it. Clear, concise emails save time and confusion all around.