If you’ve been to a café, bike shop or microbrewery recently, you were probably struck by the thought that the young folk sure love their tattoos and piercings. And you’d be right. One in five Americans has a tattoo, up from 14% in 2008. So how does all of the ink and jewelry affect your recruiting process, and where should you draw the line? And if you’re thinking about getting a tattoo or piercing yourself, how can you do so without limiting your career choices?
On the hiring side, Karla Dobbeck, President of Human Resources Techniques, Inc., says there are no known HR policies that forbid tattoos or piercings in the workplace. However, often times something considered to be “distracting” to clients or coworkers will be recommended to be covered or removed. Which brings up the question: Who defines “distracting?”
Unfortunately, for candidates or employees with tattoos, “distracting” body modifications will inevitably be defined by your employer and your clients. Highly visible and customer facing roles, such as Sales Representatives and Account Managers, are roles where your employees will be speaking with clients that don’t necessarily share your views or the views of your company when it comes to tattoos and piercings. These roles often come along with a need to have any polarizing body modifications covered.
Policy aside, not all body modifications are created equal when it comes to the stigma they carry in the workplace. Jeffrey Paetzold, renowned and award winning tattoo artist and Reconstructive Areola Tattoo Professional with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, believes that the stigma around tattoos in particular has changed due to options. When Jeff started his work 14 years ago, “you were limited to what you could find on a wall or from a book, whereas now tattoos are completely customized…. A beautiful custom piece with meaning is something that is or can often be regarded as an impressive piece of artwork.”
When it comes to piercings however, Jeff says, “You don’t see many eyebrow piercings anymore.” While stigma over alternative styles of ear piercings has dwindled, the remaining discomfort some people feel when looking at facial piercings has limited some employment opportunities for piercing junkies.
So how does all of this change recruitment efforts? Most companies, culturally speaking, will have a fairly clear and open idea of what their clients would accept and what candidate would be a good cultural fit. For candidates and employees, University of California Psychology professor Ross Avilla says “if a person really wants to get body art, they likely will, even if it makes them a bit of an outcast…the easiest trade-off is probably to get a tattoo that isn’t normally visible, or can be easily covered up at work.”
This is a trend that Jeff has also noticed, and he says that tattoos are no longer just an indicator of an “alternative” lifestyle – in fact, he has many clients that suit up for work, covering their full sleeves and back pieces for the navy or black of a business suit.