Tattoos in the workplace – yay or nay?
Tattoos are becoming more and more commonplace throughout the world, instead of being a taboo and associated with negative connotations, people using tattoos to communicate their own identity and decorate their bodies is becoming much more normal. Tattoos, however, have in some cases been born out of negative connotations, in China criminals were given tattoos when they were imprisoned so that when they were released, people would easily be able to spot a convict. Tattoos have also been used throughout the world and throughout history within gangs to show members hierarchical rank, and prison tattoos are well known throughout the world. Though the entire history of tattoos is not negative, tribal tattoos are a symbol of history, and are a positive way to represent someone’s heritage, and army tattoos can be seen as a ‘badge of honour’. However, there are a lot of people who use tattoos to communicate offensive messages, the freedom of creativity has enabled the practise of tattooing to be tarred.
There’s no denying that tattoos have become more socially acceptable now, but have workplace attitudes towards them really changed? If you work in a creative industry like advertising or design, chances are there will be no repercussions or judgements passed if you have a tattoo, they might even be considered a plus for some people. Roles which aren’t customer facing are also more likely to be lenient when it comes to tattoos.
Tattoos have always been part of a counter culture, a sign of rebellion, and this stigma will always be associated with them, no matter how ‘open’ our culture gets regarding tattoos, there will always be someone who will judge a person on their ink rather than their personality. For businesses this can become a problem, in particular with customer facing roles, their primary concern is keeping their customers happy and to have staff that may offend a certain clientèle is dangerous for business. When it comes to this, it’s not necessarily the employers who are discriminating against employees, it’s the customers judgements and opinions, which they can’t always foresee, that they are worried about.
Dr Andrew Timming from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland conducted a study involving various managers who were aged between 30 and 60 who were involved in recruiting from a variety of businesses including a hotel, university, bank and prison, and asked their opinions on potential employees who have tattoos. In general the responses viewed tattoos in a negative light, with one manager saying that they made a person look dirty, and another saying that tattoos were one of the first things that fellow recruiters talked about after a candidate left. Though the responses to tattoos are all relative, as certain types of tattoos provoked more negative responses. Tattoos of flowers or butterflies were found to be more accepted, whereas tattoos that connote death, sexual imagery, racism or violence were obviously regarded as unacceptable. Interestingly though, an HR manager from a prison commented that when employing prison guards, tattoos can be a positive attribute as they can establish common ground with prisoners which helps in that line of work.
Of course tattoos shouldn’t hinder your chances of getting a job, you’d be the same person with or without them, but when you’re planning your career, you should consider whether or not it would be appropriate to have tattoos either in certain places or at all. Tattoos are socially accepted a lot more than they once were, and the people who judge them the most seem to be older generations who haven’t grown up in a time where tattoos were commonplace, research by the Pew Research Centre in Washington D.C found that 63% of over 60’s who took part in the survey found that tattoos were inappropriate at work, compared to 22% of 18-25 year olds. This means that tattoos are likely to become more and more acceptable as the younger generations become older. However, according to the research, participants from each age group did acknowledge that tattoos and piercings can affect a job search.
If you have tattoos, you should err on the side of caution when applying for certain jobs, evaluate the industry and make an informed decision as to whether or not tattoos would be appropriate for the role, research the company’s policies – do they have one on tattoos? If tattoos can be easily covered up, there’s no harm in doing so, initially at least, once you’ve established a good rapport with your co-workers, then it may be appropriate to reveal your body art.