Point-Counter-Point: Do tattoos have a place in the working world?

tattoo artist adds tattoo to client's skin

Cleen Rock One, a tattoo artist who works out of Las Vegas. Sofia Lynch | Washtenaw Voice


Think before you ink

By Ryan Preston


In recent years, body art has become more prevalent than ever before. With things like gauges and unique tattoos becoming more present, how has the business world adapted to these changes?

Most companies and businesses have a policy regarding what employees are allowed to have on their skin.  However, just because it’s allowed, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Anthony Sapienza, a daytime manager at McDonald’s, said “We sink or swim based on customer service. There is always another McDonald’s down the street. I can’t afford to have my customers driven off because someone wants to have a tattoo.”

His policy is strict on gauges and piercings of the face, save a stud or hoop in the ear, but sleeves and other tattoos are OK as long as they are not visible with the uniform on. Sapienza also mentioned that while this is only a policy at his location, many others have similar policies – but ultimately it’s up to the managers at each location to decide.

So if even minimum wage jobs are cracking down on body art, what can be expected at other employers?

John Snyder, a branch manager at the U-M Credit Union, said “If it can be seen when customers get a loan or deposit a check, then it has no place in this bank.”

The policy on body art at the bank is outlined during orientation according to Snyder, and all employees are asked about piercings and tattoos before being hired.

“You have to keep work and your personal life separate. Tattoos are actually fairly common, even in the professional world, but you would never know that at most businesses,” Snyder said.

Getting yourself inked provides an even bigger barrier once you enter the world of white collars and cubicles.

Jennifer O’Connor, a manager at Volkswagen Group of America, said “It’s bad enough trying to climb the corporate ladder as a woman. I can’t afford tattoos or anything that would jeopardize my job.”

O’Connor described the authority and respect that managers expect to have in the professional world and have to look the part in order to receive it.

“Volkswagen as a company wouldn’t have a problem with it, but my co-workers and my boss would certainly look at me different.”

O’Connor wasn’t sure what the exact policy was at Volkswagen until she looked at an application and learned that tattoos, while they are allowed, can never be visible during the work day.

So while tattoos may seem like a good idea, ultimately it seems to be counterproductive and counterintuitive. If you’re going to spend money on a tattoo but then just have to cover it up most days of the week, what’s the point investing money into it?
Gauges may seem cool and countercultural now, but what happens when you’re out of school and looking for a job? Even the local fast food restaurant just might have a problem.

Your future is closer than you think, and it’s not worth the risk for an expression on your skin.



Don’t lose the tattoos



Just a fraction of a small tattoo showed while Ingrid Ankerson, professional faculty in the Digital Media Arts Department at Washtenaw Community College, extended her arm and pointed to her whiteboard filled with information. In a world where professional people dominate the work environment, it’s a struggle finding creativity and self-expression being portrayed in the work atmosphere.

According to a Pew Research Center report, about 73 percent of all people get their first tattoo between 18-22 years of age. Anyone who has ever had a tattoo is sick of hearing “Wow, you’re going to have a hard time finding a job with that,” because, especially in 2015, that just isn’t true. Businesses including ICare, Best Buy, and Bank of America have slowly opened up their policy to make tattoos A-OK.

“It really depends on what industry you’re working in and who you’re dealing with on a day to day basis,” Ankerson said.

In certain tattoo shops, tattoo artists are considered more credible if they are covered in tattoos.
Some places allow tattoos, but require them to be nearly invisible. Ankerson had jobs before WCC, including teaching at a technological college, where she experienced this.

“They allowed tattoos there, but they had to be covered,” Ankerson said. “I worked with a guy who had full arm tattoos, and he had to wear a sweater.”

Piercings and body modifications have also been an issue in the corporate workplace. Employers are put into hard places because, when it comes to piercings, certain religions hold affiliations with them. According to Indiamarks, both Muslim and Indian women wear nose rings that relate back to their cultural background.

In India, nose rings signify marriage, and are never removed once the woman is officially married. Although young people in the culture wear nose rings with no affiliation to marriage, it is a fashion statement and a freedom of expression.

The way that people – particularly customers – react to tattoos is a worry that is very common to people who are just entering the workforce with tattoos. It is good to give it thought, especially when getting your first tattoo, because people can and will be judgmental.

It is almost a “do it at your own risk” warning, because not everyone will be open-minded about tattoos, and you need to think about how that will affect your job. It can be very common to experience an especially unsupportive customer, which can put you in a bad place, even more so if you work for commission.

Tattoos can be very symbolic and nostalgic for the people who have them. They can be a constant reminder of a loved one, or something from the past that one holds dear. It is extremely possible for a professional, hard-working person to have tattoos and piercings. That does not affect how well they do their job, or how they interact with people.



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