Tattoos becoming more acceptable in the workplace

At one point in time, sailors were about the only ones known for wearing tattoos. Today, they are becoming more accepted in society and the workplace.

But does every employer think they are OK?

A total of 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. For those with tattoos, 70% have more than one and 20% have more than five.

Many tattoos are not visible in public, with women mostly having them on their ankles and men on their upper shoulders. Seventeen percent regret having them, mostly because the ink displays the name of a person the regretful tattoo wearer is not so friendly with anymore.

Historically, studies stated that tattooed people were seen as dishonest, unmotivated and unintelligent. Another older study said 80% of HR managers voiced negative feelings about observable tattoos on potential employees. Visible tattoos were an issue when hiring those who work directly with customers. Ink was also connected to rebellion, crime, or gang association.

Cameron Magers, owner of Ink Element Studio in Tiffin, said tattoos were taboo when he first started in the business 15 years ago.

“Even being a tattoo artist, I was looked down upon by just about everybody. I have even been called some nasty names just because of the way I looked.”

The overall perception of many employers has changed. A recent study saw no correlation between the existence of a tattoo and the ability to be hired. But while they have become popular, not all employers want to hire employees with tattoos, especially if they are visible.

Tattoos are more appropriate on blue-collar workers than their white-collar colleagues. There was no difference in how men and women’s tattoos were perceived. Even the small number of respondents who had tattoos considered offensive did not evoke negative reactions from employers.

Newer managers have more negative perceptions of ink than experienced bosses. This suggests that experienced managers had positive interactions with tattooed employees.

On the other hand, a recent Academy of Management paper stated that body art is a source of employment discrimination. Female applicants with extreme tattoos were less likely to be hired, and those with mild or severe tattoos and were offered lower starting salaries than those without tattoos. Tattoos on the face and hands created the strongest reaction. Whether the hiring manager had body ink also influenced their likelihood of hiring an employee with tattoos.

A police officer in Connecticut agreed to wear makeup over tattoos that covered his face and neck to keep his job. He was about to be terminated because the police chief said the face ink didn’t fit the department’s brand.

“I have clients who are lawyers, doctors, police officers and even judges who got tattoos, but needed to hide them so they wouldn’t jeopardize their reputation,” Magers said.

Some working in the body art business today say their work has become more of a fashion statement than social statement. One of the newer reasons for getting a tattoo is a remembrance of a family member or friend who has passed away. Some employers are offering tattoos as perks to employees. Customers of brands such as Harley-Davidson are inked up to show their loyalty to the brand.

Magers added that some believe getting tattooed is a rite of passage. “Enduring all that pain makes you a stronger person or how you become a man or even in some cultures a warrior, and that has dated back all the way to ancient civilizations.”

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.