Tattoos - Still a Taboo in the Workplace?

  | The Resume Centre

A recent report in the UK has suggested that employers may be missing out on top talent because of outdated negative attitudes about tattoos, according to the mediation and conciliation service, Acas. With nearly a fifth of UK adults having a tattoo, according to a 2015 Yougov poll -a number that is significantly higher for the under 40s – this means a substantial portion of the working population is at risk from a form of discrimination that is seen, by some, as outmoded.

The report, conducted for Acas by academics at King’s College London, suggests that tattoos are still considered unacceptable in many workplaces, with a number of the 33 employers interviewed suggesting that tattoos could be a barrier to hiring in their profession.  A senior manager in the emergency services for example, quoted anonymously, told a potential new recruit:

"Why have you got a tattoo there? No, we're not accepting you'  "She found herself without a job. I said 'well how stupid are you, at what point did you think a tattoo on your head was going to be acceptable?'"

Other employers, including the regional director of an accounting firm, and the manager of a removals firm, indicated to researchers that they would be reluctant to hire people with visible tattoos in case it put off customers and clients.

The airline industry, for example, has a strict approach to appearance; people with tattoos or visible piercings are unlikely to pass the application stage.

However, there are some who argue a change in attitude is inevitable. Andrew Timming from St. Andrews University commented: "There's a tidal wave of young people with tattoos these days and they're not always going to be young."

"Employers are going to have to accept that they're integral to the fabric of society and accept that they may potentially have a place at work."

In his research Dr Timming found there were some organisations where a tattoo could be regarded as an asset  - those marketing towards younger people, or in the creative industries where a tattoo can be seen as a form of personal expression.

Acas’ head of equality, Stephen Williams noted: "Whilst it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers."

"We know that employers with a diverse workforce can reap many business benefits as they can tap into the knowledge and skills of staff from a wide range of backgrounds."

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