Are Tattoos Acceptable in The Modern Workplace?

Posted 17th Nov 2014

From Winston Churchill to Kim Kardashian, politicians, celebrities and a considerable chunk of the adult population have tattoos. Previously the reserve of sailors, inmates, and tribal warriors, tattoos have been around for millennia and have seen a huge resurgence over the last decades. In the 90s even Barbie had a tattoo (Butterfly Art Barbie), before complaints saw her withdrawn from sale.

In the UK currently 29% of all adults aged up to 44 have at least one tattoo and, perhaps surprisingly, more women sport body art than men. The tattoo’s modern revival has also brought with it a new acceptability in modern society, but just how suitable are tattoos for the modern work environment?

Blue collar workers and those in the arts have always enjoyed a certain flexibility when considering body art, but tattoos in the traditional office environment have been very much a no-no. Formality has reigned for decades and the dress code has followed suit (pun intended). But the last two decades have seen formality slowly eroded; dress-down Friday, the advent of the digital media agencies (renowned for their informality), and remote working, have all contributed to  more relaxed work environments and relaxed dress policies. What’s acceptable nowadays is certainly very different from when we first started in business.

One’s appearance in the work matters, but nowadays does it matter less than a person’s ability to do their job? In a candidate-driven market (where the candidates are rarer than jobs), tattoos have not been show stoppers for many employers - companies want to employ the best people, not people with no tattoos. The Bank of America is a fantastic example of a contemporary approach - they don’t have a rigid stance on tattoos - their spokesperson stating that “We have no formal policy about tattoos because we value our differences and recognise that diversity and inclusion are good for our business and make our company stronger”

Ink is certainly receiving greater social acceptability but how far has this social acceptability reached? A design office may encourage self-expression, artistic freedom and accept visible tattoos, but a solicitor’s office would probably have to make an issue of a lawyer with a tattoo on their neck. Should it be illegal to discriminate against tattoos? How necessary are formal company policies? Are some tattoos good and some bad? (think beautiful flower versus badly drawn football tattoo). Tattoos raise many questions that only time and lawyers will iron out. Until then, enjoy your ink, but for the moment maybe discretely!

Photography courtesy and copyright of Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work

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