Reaction to Tattoos in the Workplace

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“Tattoo - a permanent image, pattern, or word on the skin that is created by using needles to put colours under the skin“ (Vale, Mullaney & Hartas, 1996). Timming (2014) stated that visible tattoos are tattoos located on the hands, neck and face. Tattoos have became more popular in recent years, but they are still causing issues for employers and employees. Aslam and Owen (2013) stated that 25 per cent of the adults in Europe is tattooed. Tattooing is not a new phenomenon (Elzweig & Peeples, 2011), but it is still widely believed that tattoos are associated with promiscuity, anger problems, reduced mental health, carrying weapons, decreased honesty and intelligence (Timming, 2014). Tattooed people are viewed as irresponsible, unprofessional, and less qualified (Ellis, 2014). Applicants and employees with tattoos often feel prejudiced or discriminated against (Ellis, 2014), United Kingdom does not provide protection for discrimination based on body modifications, unless a person falls under a protected class. If a person has a religious tattoo there could be an argument that he is being discriminated based on the expression of the religious tattoo (Antonellis & Silsbee, 2018).

Tattoos are self-inflected choices. People are getting tattoos because they mean something to them, they will often have a story to tell. People want to decorate their body with something permanent. For the individual with the tattoo, each tattoo holds personal value to the individual (Antonellis & Silsbee, 2018). There are two main problems that are surrounding the issue of tattoos, the location of the tattoo on the body and the number of tattoos on the body. Others are usually willing to accept a smaller tattoo in a discrete location compared to a larger tattoo. For example people are considering a whole arm covered in ink unattractive (Tiggeman & Hopkins, 2011). Dickson, Dukes, Smith, and Strapko (2015) reported that most people consider tattoos on the face, neck and hands to be unattractive and unacceptable in a majority of employment situations. If tattoos can be covered up by work clothing, employers tent to be more acceptable of employees with tattoos (Antonellis & Silsbee, 2018), but because of covering their tattoos this employees may feel that they are not a true fit to the organization.

Bekhor et al. (1995) and Swanger (2006) conducted statistical analyses of the effects of body art on employment chances, but these studies are largely descriptive and, unlike the present research, neither offers a narrative that explains why tattoos reduce the probability of employment (Timming, 2014). On the other side, tattoos can be used by managers to promote the brand, products and service. The literature that deals with the problem of tattoos and employment is so small that it needs to be couched in a wider field.

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Stated by Ligos (2001) 77 per cent of managers report that they feel sales representatives with visible tattoos have a more difficult time making sales compared to sales representatives without visible tattoos. Miller, Nicols, and Eure (2009) report that employees view peer-level coworkers with a facial tattoo and piercings as less acceptable for jobs which require direct content with customers.

In July 2014 Jo Perkins, a consultant in Milton Keynes, had her contract terminated because a 4cm tattoo of a butterfly on her foot contravened the no-visible-inking policy of the firm for which she worked. A 39-year-old lady from Yorkshire with the mantra 'Everything happens for a reason' on her forearm was dismissed as a waitress in 2013 following complaints from customers. The previous year, a Next employee complained he had been forced from his job because his employers were against his 80 tattoos (Kelly, 2014). In all cases, the employers insisted that everything they did was within their legal rights.

One tattooed Starbuck employee claimed he was fired because of his gender, his female colleagues that had tattoos could stayed. If it is true, Starbuck could have problems legal discrimination (Roberts, 2017). Claire Shepherd, 27, applied for the role of retail merchandiser at shopping logistics company Dee Set. The company was impressed with her skills, so they offered her the position after passing a telephone interview. Few days later the company discovered that Claire had inkings on her hand, which would be difficult to cover up during work hours, they said they could not hire her because the design may cause offence (Mailonline, 2015).

In 2012 and 2013 Andrew Timming (2014) did qualitative interviews with 15 hiring managers in the service sector and 10 interviews with visibly tattooed respondents. First stage was having interviews with the hiring managers. Nine of the them were female. The youngest respondents were in their 30s and the oldest in his 60s. Three recruitments admitted to having non-visible tattoo. During the interviews topics like background information on the respondent or how the respondent felt about tattoos personally were discussed. Second stage was interviewing visibly tattooed respondents. Half of the respondents were in their 20s. Only two of the respondents held customer facing roles. The remaining respondents were either unemployed or worked ‘behind the scene’, for example in a back office or in a factory. All of the respondents had visible tattoos.

All of the managers expressed negative behavior towards visible tattoos, even the three hiring managers with tattoos despised visibly tattooed job candidates. They were aware of the fact that their attitudes towards tattoos were based on prejudice. But in the end they admitted that it did not matter what they think about tattoos. What really mattered was how their customers perceived visibly tattooed employees. They said that customers might be against employees with visible body art based on a widely shared stereotypes associated with body modifications. It is not just customers, work colleagues could be really offended as well. Despite the resistance associated with tattoos, the respondents do not have any regrets of getting tattoos.

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