Employers change tack on tattoos

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Once spurned by the majority of employers, tattoos are now welcome in most workplaces – in fact, a new study suggests the body ink isn’t just tolerated, it’s seen an asset in a number of industries.

“Body art can be seen as an asset in the labour market, as long as an applicant's tattoos are compatible with the organization's wider brand personality,” says Andrew Timming, a senior management professor at the University of St. Andrews.

In a recent study, Timming found that visible tattoos can actually increase a candidate’s chance of success – especially when those job seekers are applying in certain industries.

“Visibly tattooed job applicants can present as attractive … because they can help to positively convey an organization's image or brand, particularly in firms that seek to target a younger, edgier demographic of customers,” he explained.

The study asked 192 participants with managerial experience to rate images of people based on how strong they appeared as a candidate.

The imagines including “diversionary” faces as well as test photos of four men and four women in their 30s which had been altered to create two versions – one in which they had a visible tattoo and one without.

Interestingly, when managers were asked to selecting a candidate for the bartending role, they gave a higher rating to the tattooed version of the faces, with an average score of 5.07 out of 7 for male faces, compared to an average 4.38 given to the non-tattooed version.

Timmings claim the discrepancy is down to managers believing the hypothetical bartender would attract a young clientele.

“This argument is compatible with anecdotal evidence that there has been, in recent decades, what might be called a 'tattoo renaissance' in which body art has figured more positively in mainstream society and popular culture,” said Timmings.

The academic also interviewed managers at a skateboard firm and a chain of “trendy” pubs – both supported the study’s indication that tattooed staff would be positively received by younger patrons.

However, everyone interviewed – regardless of industry – agreed that certain tattoos were still absolutely unacceptable in the workplace, including anything that could be perceived as misogynistic, fascist, or related to drugs.

“This research is both timely and important because of the dramatic increase in the number of tattoos in recent years,” said Timmings.

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