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Are remote workers burned out? Check their emoji use, researchers say

happy emoji
Photo: Iefym Turkin/iStockphoto

Ann Arbor, MI — Employers with remote workforces can look at workers’ use of positive or negative emoji – those small images or icons featured in text communications and email – to help gauge if employees are experiencing stress or burnout, researchers at the University of Michigan say.

Inspired by a report chronicling burnout among software developers at the onset of the pandemic, the researchers analyzed millions of pre-pandemic communications among developers who worked remotely. The data helped the researchers create a model to predict potential work dropout based on an employee’s emoji use, which included assigning to emoji a sentiment score based on the dimensions of positive emotion, negative emotion, anger, anxiety and sadness.

The researchers learned that about 5% of the communications featured emoji, and the types used depended on whether they discussed work matters.

Findings show that the developers who didn’t regularly embed emoji – positive or negative – in their communications were three times more likely to leave a remote-work position within one year. Additionally, the model predicted work dropouts with 75% accuracy.


“If you can track the emotions of your employees or your co-workers by how they use emoji, then you can identify early signals that they may be experiencing mental problems like burnout,” Qiaozhu Mei, researcher and professor of information and electrical engineering and computer science at UM, said in a press release.

“You don’t even need to look at their work productivity or the actual words they say – just look at how they use emoji.”

The study was published online Jan. 26 in the journal PLOS One.

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