Tattoos were always something associated with bikies and tough people (probably ex-cons!), blokes on the constructions site and those honouring their ‘mums’. They were never seen as appealing. In fact, if you had a tattoo you were probably not to be messed with! Without a doubt, perception has shifted. Now the tattoo is a form of self-expression, a way to individualise yourself. Seen as stylish they are to be on display. On your neck. Or your wrist. Or your ankle. Or all down one leg! And to cover it up….blasphemy!!! No, our inked friends are proudly displaying their personality for all to see.  While it appeals in some environments, there are still many employers who are telling their employees to cover up!

Everywhere you look people have tattoos. It is impossible to escape. It’s a generational thing you see. The clean skins are out and branded bodies are in. Despite the tattoos rise in popularity, we have not embraced this culture at all places of business. This is particularly so in the corporate world. I guess the silk tie and flaming skull just aren’t trendy. Who would have thought? But if society has accepted the tattooed man (or woman as it so often is), why are they stating that visual displays of body art are tarnishing their brand? Everyone from the new junior in accounts to the high flying exec is brandishing a work of art on their body. Why the need for long sleeves and black stockings? Does workplace diversity have limitations? Perhaps it depends on what and where the tattoo is.

Yes there is a basis in law that supports an employer’s right to enforce a dress code so that we present ourselves in a way that promotes our employers image. And in effect preserves their reputation. Businesses and brands thrive on reputation. Without their good name they may easily find themselves bankrupt. So there is a lot at stake for a business, a lot to protect. So where to draw the line? Yes a small tattoo on your ankle is fine to be seen, however a full neck tattoo is out of the question! This may fly in the insurance industry, but in a retro café a collage of ink is usually very welcomed. It’s funny isn’t it, that we are so divided on the appropriateness of a harmless tattoo. After all, tattooing has been around since the Neolithic times! Yet many of us are too acutely aware of the negative connotations employers associate with tattoos so for those of us who have been ‘inked’, we cover up for fear of admonishment. I wonder how many employers out there would be surprised to discover just how many of their staff are actually imprinted with a tattoo?

Let’s reflect on how a visually prominent tattoo affects our chances of succeeding in gaining employment. Your CV depicts fantastic experience, highly relevant to the role. You’ve been shortlisted for interview from a pool of sixty. The interviewing panel have high expectations of you. Then they see you…polished shoes, crisply ironed suit and a large tattooed hand. Suddenly their perception of you is altered. For the better or worse? Much of the time it’s really a matter of personal opinion, but in that working environment? It could go either way. But that is just the initial impression. You still have an opportunity to present yourself as the right candidate with your knowledge, experience, passion and personality. These are the traits the panel was looking to judge you upon when they entered the interviewing room, not your personal art work.

No doubt there are many employers out there that hold very different views on the appropriateness of tattoos being on display within their working environment. Many have modified their policies to address the rising trend of ‘sleeves’ and the like. Yet it is less about the person and their ability to perform than it is about protecting their reputation in the eyes of customers. The type of business and how the public perceives it will often be a determining factor in whether or not an organisation is accepting of an illustrated body. No doubt as time goes on our views will evolve even more so. Who knows, maybe mohawks heads will soon become the rage! I’d love to read a dress policy that deals with that!

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