Are Tattoos Becoming Less Taboo at Work?

A recent study says people with visible tattoos have less trouble finding a good job than they used to, but another suggests that some employers still take an old-school view.

For generations, conventional wisdom said that visible tattoos and professional work environments don’t mix.  But the conventional wisdom may be changing.

At least one recent study found that tattoos that can’t be hidden behind clothing are no longer a deterrent to finding a job. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Miami and University of Western Australia Business School and published in the journal Human Relations, revealed no statistically relevant differences between the salary and employment levels of workers with tattoos compared to those without them.

“These results suggest that, contrary to popular opinion as well as research findings with hiring managers and customers, having a tattoo does not appear to be associated with disadvantage or discrimination in the labor market,” the report states.

On the other hand, a separate study by researchers at Colorado State University and California State University San Marcos, published in the Academy of Management Proceedings, found that “extreme tattoos” are still a major deterrent for some employers.  And although workers with more mild tattoos are likely to get hired, they are less likely to receive a competitive salary, according to the study.

“Applicants with extreme tattoos were perceived as less competent and committed than applicants without body art,” the report’s abstract states.

The two studies took different approaches: The Proceedings researchers used fake LinkedIn profiles and resumes to analyze potential bias, while those conducting the Human Relations study looked at salary and employment data.

“Sometimes what people say is not what they do, and our results suggest that when it comes to what they do, they don’t discriminate,” the University of Miami’s Michael French, who led the Human Relations study, told Quartz.

There are other signs that tattoos are becoming more accepted in workplaces. For example, Indiana University’s health system, the state’s largest, recently relaxed its employee policy on visible tattoos, citing a desire for “messaging authenticity.”

“We want you to bring your whole self to work while maintaining a professional image,” IU Health Chief Nurse Executive Michelle Janney explained to the Indianapolis Star. “We knew that many of our caregivers had tattoos that they were hiding, and that just didn’t feel genuine to us. Actually what we’re saying is use good judgment and we trust you.”

(KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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