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Do Tattoos Matter in the Workplace Anymore?

Research says no. Here’s why you should judge workers on their attitude and worth ethic more than their appearance.

Although it isn’t as common as it used to be, it isn’t unusual for employers to have a policy on tattoos. Some workplaces have a ban on visible tattoos, others won’t hire people with them.

These practices are unfortunately still in place despite being discriminatory and outdated. Tattoos used to have a negative connotation and were associated with criminal behavior. Attitudes are changing though, especially amongst Millennials and Gen Zers.

Rice University conducted two separate studies that showed whether or not an employee was tattooed made no difference in customer/client attitude.

In the first study, they gave customers a video selling a general product and gave the presenter a small temporary tattoo and other videos where the seller did not have a tattoo. In the second, they gave a white-collared worker a temporary tattoo sleeve and asked participants if they’d hire him as a lawyer or as a graphic designer.

From small tattoos to large sleeves, most participants felt neutral or positive about the workers.

Workers with tattoos were more impressive in creative contexts but workers were perceived as totally competent even in non-artistic jobs.

Tattoos have been associated with criminal activity in the past, but research shows that there isn’t much of an association. A 2019 study found that tattooed restaurant employees weren’t any more “deviant” than non-tattooed employees.

There could be a reason why attitudes around tattooed workers are softening: More people have them than ever. In 2003, only 16 percent of Americans had tattoos. That number jumped to 30 percent in 2019.

Now, about 40 percent of the workforce has a tattoo.

So not only do tattoos not have a negative influence on customer opinions but avoiding them also severely limits the hiring pool.

To get personal, I’m a heavily tattooed woman in a corporate office. As a woman with visible tattoos, I guess you could call me lucky. Women with tattoos are less likely to get hired than men with and without tattoos as well as women without tattoos. Although, according to the study, women without tattoos are more likely to get hired in the restaurant business than men with and without tattoos.

Still, I made it into the job and frankly, my boss loves me. I also work with other tattooed people who are amazing at their jobs. So, anecdotally, tattoos make no difference in the workplace. And the research out their largely supports that.

Discriminating against someone in the hiring process is illegal, it’s also illogical. If an individual is a good candidate experience-wise, don’t let them go just because of some ink.