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Editorial Team
12 Oct 2018



Inking it Right? - Understanding the Tattoo Story at Workplace

workplace culture

Professionals with tattoos, traditional industries easing dress code restrictions, the case of extreme tattooing and how to go about it, women and ink 

Matt Ranauro is a big-time Philadelphia Eagles Fan and when they won Super Bowl LII with that memorable touchdown, he decided to pay his Tattoo artist a visit. It was celebration time and what better than inking the moment on his forearm. For Ranauro tattoos are a way of expression and an insight into their unique personalities. Now, we are seeing Ranauro, at the stands and cheering for his star team. But, by the day our Spiderman turns to Peter Parker and sits at the founder’s desk at Benefix, a software-based startup working in the health insurance field. 

Yes, you read the last line right, our man here, is not the part of a rock band or biker gang. He deals with clients from a rather conservative insurance industry. Now, I know there will be some eyebrow squinting and contemplation. Startups are everything, but traditional. In fact, we won’t mind a smirk or two at this point. However, the nursing staff at Indiana University Health are smirking at the now defunct 50 pages dress code manual. Come, this April the organization saw tattooed nurses in the neonatal ward. A place that was no ink zone until recently because of sterilization concerns. 

People do not Mind seeing a bit of Art on Skin 

Let’s get real here, patients and their relatives do not mind the tattoos or that unconventional hair color, if they get a proper medical care. Look at us, we (as a generation of professionals) are all about cutting the frills and keeping it real. Millennials carry their heart on sleeves and when they roll up those sleeves nearly 40% of the times you will see their heart on ink.  

But, what about Generation X? If you hear it from Richard Bailey, the 45-year-old professional with a background in social service, times are getting more open and accepting. He is a tattoo veteran and the raised eyebrows he got while working with clients got few in numbers over the past 20 years.  

Zach McCleaf traveled a similar trajectory and got inked first in his high school days with an orange koi fish. He has added to it creating an ocean ecosystem on his right arm. He today, feels comfortable showcasing them at the workplace. But, during his days in insurance (a really traditional field) he just covered them to avoid the stares. 

But if They Mind, You can always cover it! 

Now, as an employer, you won’t possibly lose an employee over a fish, butterfly or a bit of art on the body. And what if you have a traditional clientele or a very formal workplace culture? Well, there is always an option to cover up the ink. Let me stop you if you are thinking that you will stand out as an oddball in your office building for allowing employees to exhibit tattoos. 86% of professionals do not mind tattoos and do not see them pitched against employees and a juicy dole of promotion. Dress sharp, look impeccable and groom right are the mantras of today’s corporate world. Frankly, people do not mind what you do in personal space and the ink on your body is your individual preference.  

And Here Cometh the Cringe Monster! 

So, now it’s time to revamp those dress code rule book and make it thinner. You are at your nearest Starbucks, placing an order and you see the lady taking order has a beautiful tattoo peeking from her T-shirt sleeve (The company recently changed its dress code to allow employees to be themselves). You take the order and sit on the table. Lo and behold, you see a guy with a tattooed face. You shrug a little and question the lax tattoo rules that you drafted. What if an employee chooses to sport a face tattoo? What happens when one of your employees sports a deeply embedded religious symbolism or even a Nazi Swastika as a tattoo?  

You are all sunshine for an open workplace. But, isn’t sporting a controversial or offensive tattoo is crossing the line a tad bit too much. So, how do you go about it? The good news here is that as an employer you are free to take necessary action; say a strong warning, asking them to cover up (if at all it is coverable, we are talking about extremes here), or the last resort of termination. What if the employee bounces back and sues you for discrimination

Evaluate, Understand and do not Discriminate 

To bring yourself in the clear, do not fire people over an innocent butterfly, or a motivational quote or a tribal art. Question how uncomfortable is the tattoo for colleagues and clients on the scale of 1 to 10? 

A bit of raised eyebrows over a koi fish does not hurt. But then there are extremes. Take the case of Sean Green, who loves to flaunt geometric pattern in place of a beard (yes, on his face). The face tattoo makes his mother uncomfortable, his fiancé had the initial cringe. People are shocked to see him. So, here you go! Hiring people with face tattoo in high interaction jobs can be a bit off-putting for your clients.  

Treat tattoos as people. You cannot have a blanket rule for every human on the earth. Same is with the tattoo. Frame a clear reason while you refuse the job to a tattooed individual or terminate an employee. The tattoo is a material, and you can take action if it hurts your business prospects. But, be sure you are fair and square about it. 

Let’s Talk About the Ladies 

Talking about fair and square, did we talk about any tattooed woman professional? The answer will be no (leaving the best for the last, as the saying goes). Stepahine Shohet and her intricate sleeve tattoo captures your attention, even when she is at her desk and deploying the duties of an Office Manager at North End Studio. Her sleeveless attire and her comfortable posture tell you the story, tattoos are her second skin, and no one minds it. People like Jill Abramson, rise up to become the first among the ladies to clinch an executive editor job at the Times group (We are talking about the first of her kind in the company’s 160-year-old history). Abramson likes to flaunt her bicep tattoo from time to time by wearing a sleeveless ensemble. 

The judgmental stares and stereotypes associated with a tattooed woman make them at times (15% of the times) regret their decision of getting inked. Oddly enough the roots of tattoo trace from tribes and ancient culture. Both the genders adorned their bodies with ink, sans the stares. The biker gang, punk rock image of tattoo in the West pitched tattoo as something that women don’t showcase.  

But these flip sides are not discouraging women from getting inked. Tattoo parlors like Mr. Inkwell’s in South California get women as their 80% of customers. 

A New Era? 

It’s true that tattoos are growing on people and in people’s acceptance. Companies are getting more colors than ever. You cannot lose out on talent just because of a blanket policy. But you need to draw a line.  

What are your company’s policies about Tattoo and other body art? What is your personal cringe limit for a tattoo? How acceptable face tattoos are in a workplace? Have you ever faced unfounded discrimination for wearing a tattoo? The Baby Boomers are retiring, and the millennial crowd is booming, how much do you think this changes the tattoo equation? Do drop in your inking stories and tattoo experiences at the workplace. 

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