It used to be that tattoos, piercings and other forms of body art were frowned upon in the workplace. But seeing as such body modifications have become more widely accepted in society, does that mean attitudes in workplaces have changed as well?
While perceptions of tattoos and piercings in workplaces have come a long way since the baby boomer generation, senior manager of human resources at Workopolis, Aimee Rieck, says they still have a way to go before they catch up with society’s embracing of inked and pierced bodies.
“I think attitudes have gotten better over time,” Rieck says. “I think back in the 60s and 70s it wasn’t as common for people to have tattoos and piercings, but today it’s much more common and prevalent especially the younger generation who is coming into the workforce. So I think some of the stigmatisms have been lifted from that negative connotation, but I think there are still some mixed perceptions as to whether or not it’s a professional appearance or an appearance that employers want to have as part of their company image.
According to a 2012 Ipsos poll, just over two in 10 Canadians (or 22 per cent) have a tattoo.
Yet, a 2010 survey by Pew Research found that 72 per cent of adults with tattoos usually hide their body art from view.
Why? Well, it might have to do with the fact that having a visible tattoo may influence a hiring manager’s decision when it comes to scoring a job, as a 2014 Workopolis poll of 327 employers found. While a little less than 23 per cent of hiring managers say it would not affect their decision, almost 14 per cent said they would be less likely to hire someone with a tattoo, while about 35 per cent say it would depend on the role they were trying to fill and 28 per cent said it would depend on how many tattoos the candidate had.
A 2013 study published in the journal SAGE also came to similar conclusions.
Researchers from the University of St. Andrews found that having a tattoo can reduce one’s chance of getting a job.
“Respondents expressed concern that visibly tattooed workers may be perceived by customers to be ‘abhorrent,’ ‘repugnant,’ ‘unsavoury,’ and ‘untidy,’” study author Dr. Andrew R. Timming said in a statement. “It was surmised that customers might project a negative service experience based on stereotypes that tattooed people are thugs and druggies.”
But Timming predicts that any stigmas that are attached to tattoos today will be lessened in the near future as they continue to gain “greater acceptance in the wider society.”
While the visibility of tattoos may be an issue for some industries, it may not be for others, Rieck explains.
For example, jobs that typically take place behind the scenes — creative environments or other similar jobs that don’t deal with customer service — may be OK when it comes to tattoos.
On the other hand, jobs that deal with the public – like a banker or health-care worker for example – may not be as forgiving when it comes to body art.
Despite remaining negative perceptions of tattoos and similar body art, Rieck says managers may be missing out on some top talent if they forgo hiring a candidate based on their tattoos.
So until attitudes and perceptions change in the workplace, what can tattoo enthusiasts do that may help their chances at securing a job and navigating the workplace?
Rieck has a few suggestions.
“First impressions are made quickly and are long-lasting,” she explains. “Within the first 90 seconds of an interview, a hiring manager may make the determination if they would go ahead and hire that person or not. So I think individuals need to assess on their own accord if they want to go to an interview and display their piercings and tattoos because that’s the brand they’ve built up as a person. Or do they want to wear long sleeves and cover them up?”
As for piercing, think about taking them out or replacing them with smaller studs, Rieck says.
If you’re not sure what to do it may also be a good idea to study the company culture, job searching website Monster advises. This will help you understand their attitudes towards body art, as well as the general dress code for the work environment.
And if the tattoo or piercing cannot easily be covered up, Monster also suggests broaching the subject directly in the interview by asking if your tattoo or piercing will affect your chances at getting the job. Then, Monster says, bring the conversation back to what you can bring to the company.