Tattoos, What are They Good For? Freedom of Expression in the Workplace

When we think of tattoos and piercings, we typically think of them as obstacles to gaining employment and building a positive reputation. When living in Utah, tattoos make us afraid of judgment from the prominent conservative communities, and possibly Leviticus 19:28. For many years there was a lack of allowance of tattoos in the workplace, but the landscape of careers is beginning to change.

As a journalist, I have never had a serious issue with my tattoos, but as a staff member at Southern Utah University, I typically hear, “Your tattoos are okay, but please hide them in (insert case here).”

According to Andrew R Timming, an employer’s prejudice towards tattoos is driven by consumer expectations about body art in the workplace. Another research journal showed consumers would rather see a frontline staff member without tattoos.

Some of the stereotypes that come with tattoos are criminal behavior, specifically rebellious or gang-related youth; distracting, especially when other employees spend countless time talking about tattoos; and unprofessional, specifically that someone is impulsive and did not think of their future or careers (what does this say about Former Presidents Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson?).

In response, I would like to mention I have 11 tattoos, I am a master’s candidate in professional communication, the web editor-in-chief of this publication and the Community on the Go Specialist for the Community Outreach Program. I have never been criminally charged and my tattoos in no way hinder my co-workers’ work experiences.

The earlier statistics really shocked me, but I found this innovative research discussion: “86 percent of young professionals did not think piercings and tattoos cut the chance of getting jobs.” When hiring my employees, I look more toward attire and grooming, rather than body art or hair color. When working at Discover Financial Services, I found that employers who had tattoos felt more accepting and caring than those without.

Those looking at a degree in social sciences or marketing can find a larger trend of tattoos in the workplace. According to Phlebotomy Examiner, art and photography (two careers okay with tattoos) are beginning to develop a major platform within marketing and business worlds.

The future is only getting brighter for tattooed employees though! The baby boomer generation is starting to retire and younger generations are taking over, creating a sense of acceptance in the workplace. Although some tattoos might still be seen as inappropriate, tattooed employees can begin to relax and enjoy the freedom of expression.

For those concerned with tattoos in the workplace, here are a few tips and tricks:

  • Try to avoid a tattoo in a highly visible place (face, neck, hands, etc.)
  • Select a tattoo location that can be hidden, such as upper arm, torso, upper leg (there are surprising cases of fully tattooed doctors)
  • Hide any tattoo with profanity or gang marking
  • Like I stated before, make sure the rest of your appearance is well-groomed and outfits tailored
  • Ultimately, ask your employer their thoughts on varying tattoos

Story By
Samantha Burfiend

Photo By
Tanja Heffner for SUU News