#Tattoo has 91.4 million posts on Instagram. People it seems, like tattoos. What then of ink at work? Are tattoos a form of self-expression and irrelevant to our industry or are they ‘unprofessional’ full stop? Is this the part where tattoo becomes taboo?
When in Rome
Straight out of the gate with this one, we would say what someone does to their anatomy, is up to them. This goes for tattoos, piercings, clothing, the list of personal choice is endless. It may be the case that one environment is more privy to the tattoo than another, but isn’t that just an old cliche? Yes and no. In the arena of equality, one might argue we should all be able to wear what we like. But let’s mix it up and see how we feel about it.
Scenario One: You work in marketing in an office. Jack sits next to you and wears a suit. Work socials on a Friday have revealed to you that when it’s after work drinks, the jackets come off, the sun is out and shirt sleeves are rolled up, a different kind of sleeve is on display. A ‘sleeve’ sleeve. Or to those not au fait with tats: a tattoo sleeve. You don’t mind tattoos and this doesn’t affect Jack’s ability at work in any way. Monday rolls around and he’s back in his suit.
Scenario Two: Today is the day for a small procedure, the removal of a wisdom tooth. You tell yourself it’s not a full-scale operation but you’ve also read the frightener stories on those forums about others who’ve undergone the same procedure. You’re in good hands. Dentists are doctors. You’re in the chair. The dentist walks in, no white coat, but scrubs. Obvious, this is a procedure, you think. As he gets closer you see two fully tattoed arms.
As I write this I can honestly say that neither scenario one or two, phase me. Perhaps it’s the case that in 2018, in the UK or US tattoos in reason, are ok. However, it’s important to point out that this is not the case in all countries. Culturally, tattoos can deliver a different message. In parts of South America and Asia tattoos are linked to gangs and distinguishing ink determines membership. In cases like these, to exhibit similar or the wrong kind of ink could contribute to you being seen as a person with different intentions altogether.
According to Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work: the number of countries you can be arrested in or fined for certain illegal religious, political or racial tattoos is 13.
The Risk Taker
In the western world tats really don’t seem to bother younger generations as much. It’s no longer the 80’s and mindsets have moved on.
According to research, those with tattoos are more likely to take risks (although this survey is from the late 90’s). It’s said there’s a spontaneity to a tattoo, not in the decision making but in the action itself. After all, you’re stuck with it for life (but then we do now have laser removal if it works).
If having a tattoo does make you more of a risk taker then it would make sense that tats are under as much corporate attire as is reported. In business, we have to take risks. Comfort zones really don’t come into it.
Health Care Professionals
Back to scenario two and the doc. Apparently, healthcare professionals are bound by dress codes that state they cannot be displaying ink.
“You may be denied a healthcare job opportunity if the employer believes your tattoo violates their internal appearance policies.”
Where possible tattoos should be covered up and if they can’t be, it seems that’s when employers, typically in the medical profession have an issue with them.
One such UK A&E doctor who’s breaking these barriers is Doctor Paul Robinson of South Thames. His upper arm tattoo details the NHS and all that he believes is great about the service. His full story on The Essential Daily Briefing discusses not only his passion for his job as an NHS doctor (& the reason he got the tattoo) but the dangers of privatizing the National Health Service.
Dr Robinson shared: “People who know me know I’m very passionate about what I do. I believe in the NHS, I believe in it as a nationalised organisation that’s free at the point of entry…(my tattoo) is, as a tattoo should be, a permanent embodiment of something we care about enough to want to wear on our skin.”
Employment law in the UK and US states that employers are allowed to ask employees to cover up their tattoos. If you can’t cover them (because they’re on the hands, face or another area which will be on show), then this could land you in trouble. There are reports that can be found online of those whose tattoos have cost them their jobs, which seems harsh but perhaps it not only depends on the placement of a tattoo but what the tattoo actually depicts. A 2014 Workopolis study backs this up:
We asked over 300 (327) employers how a candidate’s tattoos would affect their decision to hire or not hire that person. Fourteen percent said they would be less likely to hire someone with tattoos, 23% said it would not affect their decision, and the rest said it would depend on the number and location of the tattoos and/or the role being filled. The rest, that is, except for one lone individual who answered that they would actually be more likely to hire a person with tattoos.