Should Tattoos Be Allowed in the Workplace?

Professionals with Tattoos in the Workplace

Maybe it’s a tribal armband, orchids on the lower back playing peek-a-boo with coworkers, or—gulp!—they’re wearing it on their face a la Mike Tyson. But even if it’s that cute little leprechaun on their ankle, our latest survey results show visible tattoos in the workplace could have a negative effect on your employees’ pot of gold.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found nearly 40% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo, and body piercings are also a growing means of self-expression among people in this age group. In a perfect world, we would all be judged solely on the merit of our work. But if the 2,675 people we surveyed are any indication, there is a lot more going on when it comes to performance evaluations, raises, promotions, and making character assumptions about professionals based on their appearance.

Are Visible Tattoos in the Workplace Inappropriate?

Who has tattoos in the workplace, what do people find objectionable about them, and do tattoos really affect job opportunities? The results might surprise you.

Of the 2,675 people we surveyed, 12% reported having a visible tattoo that can be seen by managers and co-workers during the workday. Only 3% reported having a visible body piercing (other than an earring).

The biggest takeaways from our survey include a whopping 76% of respondents feel tattoos and piercings negatively affect an applicant’s chances of being hired during a job interview. And more than one-third – 39% of those surveyed – believe employees with tattoos and piercings reflect poorly on their employers. Furthermore, 42% feel visible tattoos are always inappropriate at work, with 55% reporting the same thing about body piercings.

Fortunately, only 4% of those with tattoos and piercings report having faced actual discrimination because of their ink and body art.

Overall, 42% of those surveyed feel any and all visible tattoos are inappropriate at work. That number climbs to 55% for body piercings.

By Age

As you might guess, age plays a huge role in how tattoos and piercings are perceived at work.

The younger generation was most likely to have tattoos, as people age 26-32 edged out the 18-25 demographic by a 22% to 21% margin. That number drops steadily with age, bottoming out at less than 1% for people age 60 and older. For body piercings, the 18-25 age group topped the charts at 11%, compared to a combined 3% of people older than 40. Although respondents in each age group seemed to recognize tattoos and piercings hurt an applicant’s job search chances, there was a very clear difference of opinion regarding the appropriateness of tattoos in the workplace.

In a nutshell, the older you are the less tolerant you become regarding tattoos. Not surprisingly, people 18-25 were the most accepting of tattoos in the office with only 22% claiming they are inappropriate. That percentage jumps in each age group, maxing out at 63% of people age 60 and older finding tattoos objectionable at work.

By Education

Basically, the more educated you are the less likely you are to have or condone tattoos or piercings.

20% of people with tattoos are high school graduates. That number drops slightly to 19% for those with associates degrees but falls to 10% for recipients of bachelor’s degrees. People with advanced degrees are even less likely to have tattoos, as 8% of those with master’s and just 3% of PhD recipients have ink.

Those with high school diplomas were also the least likely to find tattoos inappropriate at 38%, compared to 55% of respondents with a PhD. However, when it comes to body piercings, there was no significant statistical difference between education levels as an average of 56% found them objectionable.

For Women

According to our survey, you’re more likely to have tattoos and piercings if you’re a woman who is single or divorced.

The number of women with tattoos more than doubled men by a 15% to 7% margin. Also, 5% of women have body piercings compared to a mere 1% of men. Interestingly, single and divorced people were far more likely to have ink and piercings as only 9% of married people have tattoos, compared to 16% of respondents who are married and divorced.

By Geography

The Mountain region (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico) has the most people with tattoos at 16%. The area of the US least likely to have people with tattoos is the West South Central (Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana) with 8%.

As for which parts of the country think tattoos are inappropriate, here’s the breakdown:

  • Mountain (ID, MT, WY, NV, UT, CO, AZ, NM): 35%
  • West North Central (MO, ND, SD, NE, KS, MN, IA): 36%
  • Pacific (AK, WA, OR, CA, HI): 36%
  • New England (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT): 36%
  • Outside the US: 38%
  • Mid-Atlantic (NY, PA, NJ): 38%
  • East South Central (KY, TN, MS, AL): 41%
  • East North Central (WI, MI, IL, IN, OH): 46%
  • South Atlantic (DE, MD, VA, WV, NC, SC, GA, FL): 48%
  • West South Central (OK, TX, AR, LA): 55%

By Industry

Wondering which industry is most likely to include tattooed workers? That would be the people working in agriculture and ranching. 22% of respondents who said they work in agriculture and ranching reported having tattoos. But in an ironic twist, 67% of those workers found tattoos inappropriate in the workplace — by far the highest percentage of any industry surveyed.
Workers in the hospitality, tourism, and recreation industry were second with 20% of workers tattooed, followed by 16% of people in the arts, media and entertainment industry. Government workers are least likely to be tattooed with only 8% of respondents stating they’re inked. Here’s the full breakdown of tattooed workers by industry:
  • Agriculture/ranching: 22%
  • Hospitality, Tourism & Recreation: 20%
  • Arts, Media, Entertainment: 16%
  • Retail: 14%
  • Finance & Banking: 13%
  • Healthcare: 13%
  • Professional Services: 13%
  • Other: 13%
  • Education, Child Development, Family Services: 12%
  • Manufacturing: 9%
  • Energy & Utilities: 9%
  • Engineering, Design & Construction: 9%
  • Information Technology: 9%
  • Government: 8%

Company Culture

Most people interviewing for new jobs worry about base pay, bonus potential, and benefits. But nearly one-quarter of survey respondents said they take a company’s stance about things like tattoos and piercings into account when making their decision.

23% of all those surveyed said they specifically examine a company’s permissiveness regarding tattoos and piercings when deciding whether or not to accept the job offer. Workers age 60 and older are the age group most influenced by corporate attitudes towards body art, with 31% reporting they are affected by company policy regarding tattoos.

Know your company’s attitudes about tattoos in the workplace and implement the strategy accordingly when hiring. While you should never discriminate based on looks alone, make sure the employee you’re interviewing will be a good cultural fit.

 

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