Tattoos In the Workplace

Published on October 27, 2013 by Naomi V

Tattoos in the workplace is a very relevant issue in the modern workday, even with wide general acceptance of tattoos. On the Discovery Channel, there was an interview of an ex member of the Yakuza. He was an elementary school teacher. Over 97% of his body had ink on it in various shapes, patterns, and designs which included his cheek bones, his ears, his nose, and anywhere else you can think of. The school he taught at was not aware of his tattoos. He concealed them every morning with layers upon layers of makeup and foundation to appear just like everyone else. His main concern was the way people judged him in society and that his tattoos would be inappropriate to unveil in front of school children. While the culture is different in Japan than in the U.S. and the Yakuza has a very infamous history and reputation, how many people in the U.S. who are tattooed are also forced to either conceal their tattoos in their workplace or constantly fear being looked down upon and perhaps jeopardize their careers? Twenty or thirty years ago, many industries wouldn't accept visible tattoos but these days, many of those industries have changed.

In 2006, a study done by the American Academy of Dermatology stated that 24% of Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed-that’s about one in four. Furthermore 36% of Americans between ages 18 to 29 were estimated at that time to have at least one tattoo! That’s a lot of inked Americans! If one in four Americans is tattooed, it seems like it is more mainstream and no longer taboo. It's a common idea that when someone turns 18, they get their first tattoo. For many careers, it is no longer a risk factor for getting or keeping a job. It's quite plausible that the hiring manager also has a tattoo or two. It's even imaginable that the CEO has tattoos! An article on described a college grad who got an internship at the company of her dreams but was worried of being fired because of a tattoo on her neck. She was afraid that her tattoos in the workplace would cause her name to be tarnished. The columnist responding to her worries quoted John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, “Even in this tight job market, most companies are not going to view tattoos too harshly… One reason is that with everyone from soccer moms to MIT computer science graduates sporting tattoos, preconceptions about tattooed individuals are no longer valid. More importantly, companies have a vested interest in hiring the most qualified candidate." He was also stating that in today’s economy there’s more tolerance towards tattoos in the workplace since it would be more difficult to find people in Generation Y (18-29 year olds of whom 38% are inked) that are assets to the company without tattoos than those with. While tattoos are commonly accepted by most employers, it is still something to consider, depending on the field you want to get into. A newly legal adult at eighteen may change their career choice in their thirties. Will a facial tattoo get in the way of that person's decision to become a lawyer or bank teller? Tattoos are permanent and it is still a big decision that should be well thought out before executing. That being said, it's quite encouraging that today’s tattoo culture is filled with future engineers, physicians, artists, musicians, baristas, bar tenders, stock brokers, lawyers, and everything else in between and should not be judged in the workforce for anything other than their contributions to the company.