Culture

Chinese employee fired for sending emoji to her boss

Jun 19, 2019

How much should a text affect your job prospects?

In China, an employee was fired from a bar after replying to her manager with the 👌 emoji on the messaging app WeChat, online outlet Btime reported.

The manager had asked the employee to send over some meeting documents. She responded with the OK emoji, and he took issue with it.

“You should use text to reply to the message if you have received it,” the manager replied. “Don’t you know the rules? Is this your way of acknowledging receipt?”

A few minutes later, he told the employee to contact the human resources department and sort out her resignation.

“I have worked for many years, and this is my first encounter with this kind of stupid situation.”

“This is a real case,” the employee told Btime. “The resignation is still being processed. I have worked for many years, and this is my first encounter with this kind of stupid situation.”

After the incident, the manager apparently sent out a missive asking everyone to reply to messages with “roger.”

Chinese texting etiquette

This is not the first case of Chinese managers accusing employees of poor texting etiquette.

Earlier this month, an employee was scolded for “lacking basic WeChat manners” for replying with “um,” which can also mean “noted” in Chinese, according to a report in the Chongqing Chenbao newspaper.

WeChat is the most widely used messaging app in China, with more than a billion daily active users, making up three-quarters of the population.

Its prevalence means people don’t just use it for personal conversations but also at work (kind of like Slack).

(Read more: The same emojis mean different things in China)

As a result, a whole set of unspoken rules has sprung up in China about how people should text at work.

Emojis are used, but only between colleagues who are close. Some bosses might even take offense to casual language.

But whether someone ought to be fired for it? The internet is divided.

The offending text message. After the emoji response, the manager replies, “You should use text to reply to the message if you have received it. Don’t you know the rules? Is this your way of acknowledging receipt?”
The offending text message. After the emoji response, the manager replies, “You should use text to reply to the message if you have received it. Don’t you know the rules? Is this your way of acknowledging receipt?” / Photo: Weibo

Screenshots of the conversation went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter, with 280 million views for posts on the topic.

Some commented that a boss could fire anyone for any reason, while others defended the employee.

“I think a good leader should be able to accept different people’s communication styles and characteristics,” one post read.

(Read more: Why Chinese people don’t use email)

If anything, the case has revealed the informal manner in which a lot of workplace communication takes place in China.

“Of course this is an arbitrary reason to fire an employee,” says Wang Liping, a Renmin Business School professor specializing in management and human resources. “But this is what may happen in small and medium-sized companies as they may not have a comprehensive regulation or system related to this kind of situation.”

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

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