Body ink and the career world have always had a rocky relationship. Traditionally, tattoos were associated with criminal, violent and lower class members of society, with many employers still discriminating against hopeful employees with body art today.

Some believe tattoos make employees appear more unprofessional than their un-tattooed counterparts, with the traditional stereotypes previously mentioned still coming into play here. But why, and in what circumstances are tattoos viewed as okay and not okay in the business world?

Type of industry and client perception

The type of industry may affect the rules and thoughts on tattoos. For example, in an office where the dress-code is full suits – typical ‘office-wear’, chances are, you won’t even be able to tell if an individual has artwork inked onto their body as most of it is covered by clothing.

Of course, an individual may have neck, face and hand tattoos, and the views and restrictions on visible tattoos in an office will vary from company to company. 

A law firm or something similar may not allow tattoos to be visible at the workplace due to the serious nature of work and clients may connect with employees. While tattoos are becoming more accepted as a norm in contemporary society, many still connect tattoos with negative connotations, and in a business where business-client contact is regular, tattoos may be a disadvantage in some instances.

While the tattooed employee may be perfectly capable at doing their job successfully, if a client views the employee as less-capable, it could deter business. At the end of the day, clients are the ones who pay for the service the business provides, and if they have out-dated views on tattoos, it could cost the company business if they employ a heavily tattooed person to work with said client.

In other industries, tattoos may be embraced and encouraged. For example, in artistic and majority-millennial-dominated industries such as social media, self-expression – through fashion, make-up, tattoos etc. – may be embraced and actually make tattooed applicants perfect for the job with evidence of creativity and self-expression visible without any words being said.

Type of tattoo

This section is quite self-explanatory; it depends on what the tattoo(s) is actually of. If the tattoo is more offensive than artistic, it can be more of an issue. Artworks displaying nudity, explicit images or language or anything else which may offend are obviously less likely to be allowed on display at work.

This then goes onto the argument of fairness; if one individual is required to cover an offensive tattoo, shouldn’t every other tattooed (offensively or not) have to do the same? Equality and anti-discrimination at work is extremely significant in contemporary society.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

When a perfectly qualified candidate is rejected from jobs, this discrimination can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy. When discriminated against in society, tattooed individuals may be forced to turn to crime or anti-social behaviour as a way to survive; unemployment may lead to theft and boredom, for example.  In these cases, they are fulfilling the traditional tattoo stereotype due to being exploited by higher members of society (e.g. employers who don’t like tattoos).

Of course, while in society tattoos are becoming more accepted in terms of employment, this is still occurring in some areas where rejection may have taken its toll.

No rules on tattoos can benefit performance

In an office of a company like Pinterest or Etsy – where creativity and self-expression is encouraged – the freedom of self-expression with no restriction on tattoos is likely to make individuals happier, and therefore better at their job.

Even companies that aren’t so artsy – offices in different industries – who have no restrictions on tattoos are likely to find this freedom beneficial to the productivity of their workforce.

While some industries and employers may have legitimate reasons for hiring blank-skinned applicants over inked ones – e.g. offensive art or client perception - much of today’s millennial work-force are tatted and employed without discrimination, following changed perceptions on the subject over previous years.  Nowadays it can be surprising if an individual under 30 years old doesn’t have any inkings, with self-expression and not worrying about job prospects in terms of tattoos becoming more prominent than ever.  What are your thoughts?

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our Content Writer.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with a love of writing about anything and everything in tow.
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