Your body, your choice.

If you are a tattooist in 2016, by no doubt you’ve hit the jackpot. You’re one of the most popular artists in the world these days, where you get to permanently scar someone for life and get paid for it.

Tattooing is artistry, while a very permanent one I think we can agree that this is the case. Of which all must be executed perfectly.

I am on the fence when it comes to this debate. I have my reasons as I’m sure many of us do. My mother for instance cannot stand them so when I came home one day after getting my tattoo i was almost certain she was going to disown me (rest assured she did not). I also have my Dad and my brother who are either here nor there, and then I have my eclectic bunch of friends who loath and love them.

It boils down to a choice and an understanding. Above all else though it is your body and therefore your choice what you do with it. We all may not agree, but I think it is important to respect one another’s decisions as individuals in all walks of life.

The lines between what is acceptable and what is not in the workplace have become increasingly blurred however. Depending on what and where the tattoo is, there may or may not be an issue for employers. The laws still tend to support employer dress code/appearance policies in general and employers retain some flexibility in creating rules that require employees to present themselves in a way that is consistent with the employer’s image. But that doesn’t mean that banning tattoos altogether is appropriate. In some cases, it can still violate the law. There are two things to consider and that involves the nature of the work and that first impressions mean everything.

Tattoos used to be considered part of a counterculture. It’s probably a fair statement to say that for years, many people associated tattoos with gangs, bikers, and other groups that were thought to operate outside of the social centre. Today, tattoos have gained wider social acceptance and more and more people, men and women alike, have them. People with tattoos work in a variety of industries and hold entry-level jobs as well as top executive positions.

I believe that a tattoo comes under dress code. If your workplace emphasises a corporate formal dress code, then I doubt a tattoo of your favourite Disney character on your leg meets that criteria. It isn’t a case of discriminating here, it is the rules and if we start bending these rules to meet our ever-increasing politically correct society, we are not doing anyone any favours. The simple solution is to cover it. It shouldn’t be a big deal because it isn’t. I know in myself the reason that I got my tattoo was for myself- no one else. My intention was to not show it off for every man and his dog to have an opinion. Believe me I have had my fair share of comments on it: “It’s too big”, “I don’t like colour tattoos”, “the writing looks weird”. It is nice to see people taking an interest in what i put on my body, but I really don’t care. I don’t care because I love it and it will be with me for the rest of my life, not theirs.

Many employers have policies that do not allow visible tattoos and that is fair game. And depending on the employer’s industry and the type of job, this may make sense. For example, the odds are that a four-star hotel may not want the concierge to have large tattoos of skulls and crossbones on the back of each hand. But the same hotel may have less concern if a chef in the kitchen has those same tattoos because direct contact with the hotel’s customers is minimal. From a business perspective, the issue for the hotel is to write a policy that draws appropriate lines between jobs in which visible tattoos may or may not be appropriate.

Every few years there are a flurry of media stories about tattoos in the workplace and these tend to regurgitate the same messages: that tattoos and body modification aren’t professional, aren’t corporate, and that they give out a ‘certain message’.

More and more people from a range of backgrounds, working in a range of industries, are getting tattooed. My dad got a tattoo a few years ago and that was certainly something I would never have predicted. There are more tattoo parlours, more styles, more conventions and more legislation to ensure happy tattooed customers. But there are also more tattoo removal businesses today- so what does that say? On some level this would imply that the negative connotations must have changed. And yet, every time a friend of mine is deliberating about getting a tattoo there’s always hesitancy, not brought on by choosing the artist or the image, but whether the tattoo will somehow ‘brand’ them in a way they’ll regret.

There has been a huge shift towards individuality and self-expression in the workplace. Pastel hair colours, tattoo sleeves and facial piercings are no longer confined to students or the creative industries.

Appraisals focus on tangible outcomes and an individual’s success at work. There simply isn’t the space to judge people on aesthetics when these goals are usually part of a much bigger strategic plan. The space for bias is shrinking and that’s clear by the increasing number of unconscious-bias tools that are being developed to support fairer recruitment and selection.

But err on the side of caution – irrespective of job role we are all working in an increasingly competitive market. Several organisations are usually competing for the same projects and hundreds of people are competing for the same jobs. Usually they’ll notice and it becomes a talking point, but for that initial meeting I would like to be assessed on my knowledge of learning and development rather than my taste in tattoos.


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