Guest Post: Tattoos in the Workplace- Are they acceptable?

by Anthony Frazier

Anthony Frazier is a Recruitment and Training Specialist. He is also obtaining a Masters Degree in Leadership and Strategic Human Capital Management from American University.

Everyone has a different way to express themselves. Tattoos have become increasingly a form of expression for Millennials or Generation Y’s.  As the country continues to move into a services economy, impression management is a major factor in securing a job.  The different business environments are becoming more progressive but it is conservative in client relations and brand management.  I use the term “business environment” loosely as regardless of the organization, they still function as a business. Visible tattoos on the forearm, neck, and face can screen out applicants because of the uncertainty of their acceptance by an organization’s customers, clients, and stakeholders.

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Visible tattoos can impact an employer’s perception of a candidate depending on the industry, job duties, and environment.  It is not a question of skill but a question of a cultural acceptance.  Your appearance sends a message.  If you are up for a partner position in a prestigious law firm who clients are generally conservative, it can prove problematic because the clients may create preconceived notions of the person’s ability. On the opposing side, if you are targeting an innovative graphic design house, they will more likely be open to outward expression.  During the recruitment and selection process, job seekers should try to minimize potential biases and assumptions that employers may unconsciously use as a hiring criteria.  A comparable example is earrings for men.  I personally have had my ears pierced over ten years, but I rarely wear them at work and certainly not in an interview.  I also have a coworker who has a tattoo sleeve that I recently learned about.  He is possibly one of our most professionally dressed employees but knowingly wears long sleeve shirts so that his skills and abilities, not his tattoo, are the center of attention.   

Every employee in some way, shape or form is a representative of the organization or industry that they work. In some cases, tattoos, piercing, extreme hair dye, or unkempt dress can cause a distraction.  People can become more focused on a physical appearance rather than the message being communicated.  Employers factor in the potential reaction of customers, clients, or other stakeholders when selecting hires. Although I work in a relatively relaxed workplace, we have asked employees to be aware of their appearance when attending client meetings or representing the firm.

I think tattoos are great. However, people simply need to be conscious of their placement, especially considering the industry, company, or profession they choose to work.  Tattoos are best placed in locations that can be covered up in someway whether by shirt, jewelry, pants, etc.   This allows a person to be expressive while maintaining “suitable” impression management standards, especially during interviews.  The interview is your opportunity to present you qualifications and skills.  The last thing you want is an employer to be focused on factors other that your capabilities, knowledge, and performance.  With that, I suggest people think about the career they want and the potential reaction of those stakeholders when considering tattoo placement.


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