From tattoos to piercings, you don’t have to look far to see somebody sporting one piece, or multiple types of body art. In fact, in some settings, if you are not pierced or inked, you are the minority. According to one recent poll, nearly one in seven adults in the U.S. have a tattoo and about half of the people in their twenties sport either a tattoo or body piercing besides earrings (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology)
What does this mean?
Inked skin and non-traditional piercings are finding their way into the modern workplace. We might not bat an eye if our waiter or barista at the local coffee bar sports a tattoo. But what if your doctor walked into the exam room with a metal stud through her eyebrow or tattoos on her knuckles? How would you feel seeing tattoos or piercings on your banker? Your child’s teacher? The man who shows up at your front door to fix the air conditioner?
Admittedly, it’s not fair to judge a book by its cover, BUT, fair or not, in some industries, tattooed or pierced employees are still perceived as less professional and less career-minded than their plain-skinned counterparts. Sometimes it is just more prudent to cover your tattoos and piercings in the workplace.
When should you “cover up”? Is it something small and discreet that can be easily hidden when necessary or is it something that is blatant and difficult to impossible to conceal? Perhaps a face tattoo is an acceptable option for some types of jobs but severely limits options for the vast majority of us. The financial industry, for example, or a five star hotel may require you to cover your tattoo during business hours. However, if you work in a creative field, the tattoo on the inside of your wrist will probably not be the only one on display.
Most businesses are justifiably concerned about how employees reflect their desired corporate image. Your employer undoubtedly has defined a clear dress code in the company handbook. While there have been lawsuits between employees and employers about these type of issues, the bottom line is that employers have a right to require their employees to dress in a manner that upholds the professionalism of the company.
Food for thought when blending business and body art:
1. Should you cover your tattoos in the interview and then unveil them once you have the job? A common tactic is to cover your tattoo with a band aid or clothing for a job interview. It may not be necessary to discuss your art until you determine if the job is a good fit. A quick look at the boss or tour of the company will give you information to help you decide if you and your body art will fit in. On the other hand, If you have no intention of covering your tattoos for the job, don’t cover them during the interview at your own risk.
2. Make sure your body art is in alignment with your career goals. If you manage investments for clients and you have tattoos peeking out from under your suit sleeves, it may make clients question your judgment. Your body art may be a distraction or make some clients uncomfortable – it’s just a fact.
3. Is your body art appropriate for mixed company? That topless hula dancer on your bicep may be offensive, not only to your boss but to your neighbor, your pastor and your mother.
4. Piercings are less common and don’t yet have the familiarity and acceptance that tattoos are gaining. Unless it’s a piercing that is usually under wraps during business hours, such a belly button ring, these are still a workplace distraction.
On the flip side of body art and piercings: If employers rule out prospective employees strictly based on a tattoo or piercing, they may be severely limiting their options. The bottom line still remains, it is important to project an image that makes those around you – employers, clients, and customers – comfortable and confident in your ability to do your job in a professional way. To that end, let common sense be your guide – both before and after getting inked or pierced.