Tattoos in the workplace – are they unprofessional or a celebration of individuality and creativity?

A subject that appears to have become a popular discussion point on B2B platform, LinkedIn, recently, is tattoos in the workplace. It certainly seems to be a divisive topic.

Many businesses find that after the summer months, they are presented with a fresh wave of graduates, with the desired grades, credentials and an engaging, eager personality to match. But what happens if the ideal candidate is adorned with tattoos?

Would the ink-ings be the first thing that you noticed upon meeting the candidate face-to-face for the first time? Further to that, if you ask yourself honestly, would having tattoos impact an individual’s chances of landing a role with your firm?

Despite the increase in popularity of tattoos in recent years (we’re certainly used to seeing them on celebrities, athletes and high-profile social influencers), many employers still consider them to be unacceptable in the workplace.

In the same respect, there are employers that do embrace individuality and creativity. Often, it’s the case that these businesses see body art as little different to piercings, view ‘unnatural’ shades of hair colour as acceptable and consider wearing shorts to the office in hot weather as something of a head-turner at worst. Certainly not issues that compromise the professional perception of their business.

We often find that candidates raise the topic of tattoos in the workplace. They have concerns about how potential employers may perceive their appearance at interview stage, or that businesses may be unsure about how hiring an individual with tattoos will impact on their company image.

A survey by YouGov reported that around 30 per cent of UK adults aged between 25-39 have tattoos.

When you consider the rate at which body art has become more popular over the last few years, it is likely that this percentage will rise, especially among younger generations of workers.

Tattoos are the physical manifestation of personal expression, and something that it seems will continue to cause controversy. One example of this is England footballers Raheem Stirling’s assault rifle tattoo last summer. After the media had exhausted all avenues, speculating about the meaning behind the tattoo, Stirling explained it was a tribute to his late father who was a victim of gun crime.

Image bias will continue to be a discussion point, but does this mean that employers could be missing out on the best candidates?

A survey conducted by LinkedIn in 2018 found that 88 per cent of recruiters and HR professionals considered that that tattoos limited a candidate’s career prospects, while a further 75 per cent stated that a person’s image played a significant role in the hiring process.

Four in ten admitted that they had rejected a candidate with suitable experience because they had a visible tattoo, and two-fifths said that they had rejected a candidate with tattoos.

Despite the results of the survey, Rebecca Drew, sales manager at LinkedIn Talent Solutions remained positive, stating, “it’s encouraging to see that employers and recruiters are taking steps to reduce image and tattoo bias, such as holding phone interviews, virtual reality assessments and screening candidates via bots to strip a person’s image out of the hiring process.”

However, as we have discussed previously in another blog, unconscious bias isn’t something that is limited to tattoos, you can learn more here.

As with most elements of personal appearance, opinion will be divided. Quite simply, putting ink to skin does not impact a candidate’s potential to perform at a high level, especially if their qualifications and experience are aligned to the position at stake. It is about looking for the right match between employer and employee, regardless of tattoos, body piercings, and perhaps even bright pink hair.

About the Author

Anne Corder

Anne Corder

Owner

Whilst still actively handling recruitment assignments, Anne specialises in Human Resources with many years of experience in that sector. She blogs on wider recruitment issues affecting both candidates and clients, commenting and offering tips and advice to help achieve the right outcomes.