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Why we should be valuing tattoos in the workplace

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Body ink is now firmly part of mainstream culture. Photo: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA via PA Images

As more and more people sport tattoos, there’s a growing likelihood that someone in your workplace has been inked.

Nearly half of US millennials owned at least one tattoo in 2015, as did 30% of similarly aged Brits. In a 2018 global survey of 9,000 people taken by Dalia, 38% of respondents said they had at least one tattoo.

Body ink is now firmly part of mainstream culture, but until fairly recently, showing off your tattoos in the workplace — unless you are a tattoo artist — was widely seen as a no-no.

However, the once-common view that having tattoos will hinder job prospects may no longer be true. Although some employers still take a dim view of visible tattoos and piercings, a number of companies now realise the positive value of body art in the workplace.

The positive attributes of tattoos

The perception of tattoos in the workplace has changed so much in recent years that visible body art is no longer linked to individual employment or wage discrimination, according to a 2018 study by the University of Miami Business School and the University of Western Australia Business School.

Collecting data from more than 2,000 people across all 50 US states, the study found that tattooed job seekers were just as likely to get a job as non-tattooed candidates. In some instances, those with tattoos were more likely to be hired.

This change in heart may be a reflection of the simple fact that more people have tattoos, so seeing them in the workplace is unavoidable. But it also reveals that employers are beginning to recognise the benefits of a creative workforce — and now ensure their companies are comfortable with individuality and self-expression.

Being creative is now recognised as a key skill in the workplace, with research suggesting companies that foster creativity are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers in revenue growth.

When employees are able to be themselves, levels of creativity tend to rise. People who are able to express themselves are more likely to share ideas, opinions, and different ways of thinking without fear of judgement.

Focusing on the personal identity of new employees and allowing them to express themselves also leads to greater employee retention, according to research by the Harvard Business Review. Unsurprisingly, workers who feel able to embrace their own identities — tattoos and all — are happier, more fulfilled, and, as a result, more likely to feel satisfied by their jobs.

Individuality is also something to be relished in the workplace. A 2011 study found that 33% of British workers believed a casual dress code would boost their happiness, with the report noting that one in 10 bare their tattoos at least once a week.

A change in the workplace

This evolution in workplace culture is, in part, being led by Generation Y, who want to work for companies that reflect their personal values over those with high pay. According to a 2016 study by Cone Communications, 76% of millennials consider a company’s social and environment commitments before deciding where to work. With millennials estimated to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025, employers are starting to take note of their internal values.

Whether a company is accepting of tattoos can tell a potential recruit a lot about their ethos, too — such as whether they’re open to flexible working.

“I guess it depends on the workplace, but their acceptance tends to be indicative of other freedoms or more progressive attitudes — they’re more likely to be accepted in places that value and trust their people more, in my experience,” according to a graphic designer who has a full sleeve tattoo on their arm. “The anti-tattoo attitude is a little bit archaic, and more often than not it’s bundled with a bunch of other things that make work a little bit harder.

“I think it also humanises people — the guy in the suit and tie who works at the job you don’t understand also has two full sleeves that will have taken hours, and is probably packed with meaning or history — it reminds you that people have entire lives outside of work, just like you do.”

While views on tattoos are changing, there are still workplace barriers to overcome. Women are most likely to find themselves judged at work — for their voices, their appearance, and even their weight — and tattoos are no exception. According to a 2018 survey, women are more likely to find themselves judged by others for having body art — and they’re more inclined to keep their ink covered up.

Being tattooed is not a protected characteristic under the UK’s Equality Act, and companies usually have their own policies on visible tattoos. Arguably, though, businesses could benefit from embracing individuality in the workplace — as creativity can be hard to come by in a sea of grey suits.