Tattoos might be becoming prominent in global cultures around the world today, but this permanent form of body art has an origin that is thousands of years old. Numerous civilizations have used this form of expression or allegiance to keep individuals in touch with their culture and spirituality. The oldest evidence of human tattoos is believed to be over 5,000 years old, with the first ones involving ash or soot.
The reasons behind a tattoo are fueled by several different theories. Some cultures saw this work as a status symbol, while the Greeks and Romans used them to mark the people that were outcasts of society. Slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war were often branded with their status. All sorts of groups use tattoos to show they belong to that group.
Today’s tattoo trend involves getting a small piece in an unusual place. Creative designs on the side of a finger or behind the ear are popular choices because it limits the impact of employers who may make hiring decisions based on the visibility of the work.
Some people support the idea of tattoos in the workplace, while others still believe that this artwork is part of a counter-culture movement. There are several pros and cons worth considering on this topic.
List of the Pros of Tattoos in the Workplace
1. Tattoos open new doors to communities, friendships, and more.
When someone gets a tattoo, it is no longer a counter-culture decision that they’re making. A majority of people have one – or a piercing that doesn’t involve their ear. You might not see these folks with sleeves tattooed on their arms or major items of artwork, but there might be a semi-colon on their hand, a small heart or butterfly on the foot, and a number of other options that speak to their personality.
Businesses in the past used to think that the people who got tattoos had productivity issues, problems with authority, and commitment problems. None of that exists in the workforce today beyond what the average person experiences already.
2. It brings culture into the workplace.
The reasons why someone might get a tattoo are numerous. Most people do it as a way to express themselves in a permanent way. It might be a form of art that they prefer, and there are even spiritual, cultural, and religious reasons to pursue this choice too. Whether one agrees with the idea of getting one or not no longer matters. It is an individual choice that brings culture and respect into the workplace.
That doesn’t mean a company needs to allow someone with a large swastika on their forearm to serve Jewish customers. The symbols in a tattoo that go against the core values of the business can be rightfully excluded. If you make the effort to understand the general culture; however, it will provide more insight into what your targeted customers may desire.
3. Hiring someone with tattoos limits issues with unlawful termination.
It is imperative for businesses in today’s world to not set policies that are clearly biased against individuals who have a tattoo. When a company has regulations that excluded all tattoos and the people who choose to get them, then they place themselves at risk for litigation if a tattoo is religious or cultural and goes against their belief systems to cover it up.
4. Tattoos in the workplace speak to a creative environment.
If you have employees with tattoos and piercings in the workplace, then you are showing your customers that you’re embracing a creative, artistic environment. It speaks to your brand’s high levels of tolerance and acceptance of alternative views. This approach is one of the primary considerations that younger customers use when selecting which products or services to purchase – especially with older Millennials.
Although some Baby Boomers and older seniors might choose to take their business elsewhere if they have a bias against tattoos, the marketplace for younger consumers is just as large as it is for those in the 55+ category. You can’t be everything to everyone, so chart a course that speaks to acceptance instead of exclusion.
5. It allows a business to hire talented people.
Because tattoos and piercings are more of a form of self-expression than a statement about society, businesses are missing out on a lot of talent if they refuse to hire someone with this artwork. Whether that decision is legal or not doesn’t matter. If you need someone who is creative, responsible, and a hard worker, you’ll find those traits are common in those that decide to get some work done on their body. Even if a team finds the person to be disruptive, the talent that they bring will encourage more innovation instead of less.
Over 40% of people between the ages of 18-29 have at least one tattoo. Body piercings are increasingly popular as well. Driving a hard line on this issue will limit the number of viable applicants for an open position.
6. The research on the impact of tattoos in the workplace is variable.
There are just as many research studies that support the idea of having tattoos in the workplace as there are ones that say it may be limiting. Almost 90% of young professionals in one study said that they didn’t think the presence of tattoos or piercings reduced an applicant’s chance of getting a job. Some hiring managers say that a person’s business attire and their grooming habits are more critical factors in the hiring decision than the presence of ink.
Some heavily tattooed professionals even feel that the presence of tattoos makes them more accessible to younger customers or coworkers. The only profound negatives tend to involve positions that have significant customer-facing duties.
7. Tattoos don’t need to be visible.
Most tattoos can be covered up in some way if there is a concern about customer-facing staff members and the interactions that occur because of the ink. Wearing long sleeves or a high collar will often remove all of the potential disadvantages that come up about this issue. With the trend being to have smaller pieces in hard-to-see locations, even the items that remain visible are usually not a distraction to fellow co-workers or potential customers.
Some people choose to always cover their tattoos in every business situation to decrease the potential adverse interactions that they might encounter during the day. Others prefer to show their tattoos have established their industry expertise and personal authority or knowledge.
List of the Cons of Tattoos in the Workplace
1. Some customers see the presence of tattoos as unprofessional.
It is essential to remember that treating a customer unprofessionally is very different than what someone wears or the tattoos that are visible. The ink on someone’s body doesn’t make sure that a project delivery happens on time or that a consumer receives their order in a timely manner. Although some customers will leave because of the prejudices they have about people who have multiple tattoos, the most common reason why a business stops seeing customers return is because of a lack of adequate service.
Over 60% of adults in the United States have at least one tattoo or a piercing that doesn’t involve their ears.
2. There are some tattoos that are offensive or vulgar.
Some people have tattoos that would be considered offensive to the average person. There is ink out there that is clearly inappropriate for the workplace, whether it is through imagery or words. Allowing this display in a professional environment could become an adverse reputation issue for some companies. That’s why you will see dress codes in place that mandate a specific level of attire and presentation.
Think of an offensive tattoo as if it were a vulgar shirt. If the worker can cover the artwork in some way, then it isn’t a problem. It can also be an advantage for a business because it shows that they appreciate freedom of expression in the workplace.
3. Tattoos can be distracting to some employees.
Any distraction in the workplace can lead to a lack of productivity. If someone has tattoos that are interesting, then the conversations about the ink could lead to problems getting work done. It is a legitimate disadvantage to consider, but this problem also deserves an added level of context.
Over half of all workers in the United States waste time on social media, Internet surfing, and personal conversations already. Some employees lose 50% of their productivity because of these distractions. Having tattoos in the workplace is far less of an issue in this area than the other time losses that occur.
4. Even employees feel that visible tattoos reflect poorly on a business.
Over three-quarters of people feel that having a visible tattoo or piercing will adversely impact the chances of an applicant being hired during a job interview. Almost 40% of workers feel that the presence of these items creates a poor reflection for the employer, and the percentage of people who feel that visible tattoos are inappropriate for work is even higher. Although 55% feel the same way about body piercings, the reality of self-expression in the workplace is that a majority of people feel like that isn’t the correct approach to take.
This disadvantage means that a business could lose the majority of their customers, depending on their industry, because of this issue.
5. There is a direct correlation between the presence of a tattoo and a person’s education level.
According to information published by Salary.com, 1 in 5 people who have a high school diploma will also have tattoos or piercings. When you look at the population sample with an associate’s degree, then that number drops to 19%. Once you earn a four-year undergraduate degree, the figure falls to only 10%. Having a graduate degree drops it to only 8%, while only 3% of those with a doctorate have some form of ink they display.
Even though there are always exceptions to every rule, having a tattoo could be an indication to hiring managers that an applicant’s claims are misleading or false. That’s another reason why it can be challenging to receive a job offer in some industries.
6. It can be a challenge to do business with other companies in different U.S. regions.
The Mountain region of the United States, which stretches from Montana to New Mexico, has the largest percentage of people with tattoos at 16%. People who live in the South Central West, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, are 50% less likely to have ink. Businesses that want to work with customers in these areas may find it a struggle to expand their brand message beyond their region if they’re seen as being accepting of this practice.
55% of those in the South Central West U.S. say that tattoos in the workplace are inappropriate, which is seven percentage points higher than any other region. Only 35% of consumers in the Mountain region share the same view.
7. People still judge others based on their personal appearance.
Whether it is right or wrong, there are still many people who judge others based on how they look. This disadvantage has two clear problems for modern business. The first issue is that it can lead some employees to think differently about their employment situation because of the decision to hire someone with visible tattoos or piercings. Then there is a customer-related issue where the presence of ink can make some people uncomfortable enough where they decide to work with a competitor instead.
There will be times when a workplace tattoo may be inappropriate for certain situations, but this issue is a rare complication of this form of self-expression. You can often tell a lot about a person by the ink they have, which actually makes it easier for hiring managers to begin separating the wheat from the chaff when reviewing applicants.
Despite the advantages and disadvantages listed here, discrimination against people with tattoos or piercings is minimal. About 4% of workers with ink say that they’ve encounter problems from their supervisor or leadership team because of this issue.
Tattoos may always have an association with counter-culture activities, but that is because of our own single-mindedness. Cultures have used this expression for thousands of years to show family histories, important events, and more. When businesses are willing to have an open mind about this topic, then the pros and cons of tattoos in the workplace show that the benefits of hiring people with ink far outweigh whatever disadvantages might occur.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.