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Tattoos at work: Hot topic or not at all?

  • December 5, 2016

Tattoos are a subject of much debate at the moment and it appears that views towards them have shifted considerably in recent times. Just a decade ago it’s likely that few professional employers would have welcomed them in a work environment, but now they’re seen as commonplace in many companies and views towards them have become much more positive. But are tattoos, as some research suggests, a ‘barrier to employment’?

A study commissioned by ACAS from academics at King’s College London found that body art is still seen as unacceptable at many workplaces. This struck us as odd. After all, tattoos are considerably more prevalent than they ever have been with the latest figures suggesting that 1 in 3 young adults in the UK has one and that we’re not going to reach a tipping point until 2025, when the UK’s supplies of ink may or may not run out.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the craze really took off. Back in the 80s and even early 90s tattoos were seen as a sure fire method to make your mum cry and to steer you away from any stereotypically ‘professional’ roles. Some have suggested that Patient Zero was David Beckham, or Amy Winehouse, but really the trend is buried deeper in the cultural complexities of this country than that.

Tattoos – an issue for jobseekers?

One of the main issues for jobseekers – and employers – is now how to deal with tattoos and their role in the workplace. Organisations, after all, that are completely against hiring anyone with a visible tattoo are essentially ruling out up to a third of young professionals which, in times when skills shortages are rife, doesn’t seem like an intelligent approach.

As Director of HR Diversity Consultancy, The Clear Company, Kate Headley says – “Tattoos are perhaps seen by some as an indication of someone’s background, often associated with criminal behaviour, anti-establishment thinking and a lack of respect for authority. Yet these are all assumptions based on conceptions created by a broader society influenced by stereotypes, like the tendency for people with tattoos being depicted as the ‘bad guys’ in fiction. The issue for people with tattoos is getting employers to see beyond this stereotypical bias.”

A personal choice?

Tattoos are a personal choice, however it’s not illegal to discriminate against someone with one which means it often comes down to bias and the aforementioned stereotypes to drive decision making. You could argue that they’re a choice made by the individual who then has to live with their decision, but the same could be said about religion and we all know it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of faith.

Feel free to disagree (we’d love to hear your views) but we believe that tattoos, unless they’re particularly offensive or poorly positioned, don’t affect an individual’s credibility or their ability to do their job, so why should they be seen as a negative? Of course, there is another school of thought that suggests that work is a time for professionalism and that all tattoos are linked to personal lives and should be kept under wraps during working hours. But as we all know, life in and out of work is becoming ever more converged so where does that leave us when it comes to things like flexible working, or having the ability to work from home?

Ultimately, it’s down to the employer. The best ones are unlikely to doubt you because you’ve got a tattoo and those that do should perhaps consider the size of the workforce that they’re essentially ruling out from ever working for them by doing so.

If you are looking for further advice then why not check out our advice pages

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