Sorry Baby Boomers, but your distaste for tattoos has no real effect on Generation Y’s love and obsession with them.
Sure, you’re still the head honchos at major corporations and you’re still writing the dress code policies for most places that we work or will be working for after graduation, but don’t worry, we aren’t trying to offend you with our tattoos; they’re just another way for us to express ourselves.
By the way, not all of us are delinquents. You probably won’t even know that we have tattoos unless you ask. In a 2007 Vault poll, about 40 percent of Generation Y admitted to having at least one tattoo. Many of us, however, hide our tattoos in the workplace as courtesy to employers and in compliance to company dress code policies.
Many companies – whether they are conservative or liberal – have policies that do not allow visible tattoos or piercings because they can be unprofessional and hurt the image of the company. That’s the stereotype, at least.
I have four tattoos that are on the small side – two that are visible in my work uniform as a server. My grandfather, of course, is offended when he sees the small heart tattoo on my wrist or swirly sunshine behind my ear, and he likes to lecture me on my future inability to get a job. Experience seems to disagree with him.
Employees with tattoos should work to be discreet with their tattoos, and conversations between management and employees should take place. As a server, I wear bracelets to cover my tattoos out of courtesy to the guests, although many comment on how cute they are. I’m sure their reactions would be different if I had a curse word or a skeleton holding a bloody knife on my wrist. In an office setting, I have also avoided chastisement because of my tattoos.
I believe my managers at the restaurant are more concerned with my image because I am interacting with customers of all ages on a daily basis and their visibility may not be because many people may find them offensive.
The best advice I could probably give comes from my aunt who is a middle school librarian. At the age of 18, she got a tattoo of a pin-up girl on her bicep. At the time, she had no idea she would one day be working with children and, to abide by company policy, would have to wear three-quarter sleeve or long-sleeve shirts everyday. Since I was little, she told me: “Make sure to think about a future career and tattoo placement before you get your tattoo.”
Now, employers can’t exactly tell us that our tattoos are offensive, nor can they fire us or refrain from hiring us because of our tattoos – that is illegal. However, dress codes are legal and companies have learned to be very careful with their wording. They have chosen to stick to blanket statements like “no visible tattoos,” because what may not be offensive to one person may be to the next.
Like the way George Carlin’s “Seven Words That Can’t Be Said On Television” are becoming more acceptable, tattoos are also becoming more acceptable as executives are getting younger and may even have tattoos themselves. People with tattoos were once considered hoodlums – in the words of my grandfather and Baby Boomers everywhere – but what once was considered offensive is changing.
Tattoos should now be the least of our worries in regard to what is offensive and appropriate for the workplace.
The worth of an employee is not contingent on their appearance or body image. Some of the best workers may be covered in tattoos underneath their suits. Others may even have the dreaded drunken mistake tattoo. Having ink embed my skin in a design of my choosing does not alter my ability to be productive, charismatic or respectful.
Tattoos in the workplace are about respect and, as a person raised by parents without tattoos but open to the idea of them, I was taught how to be respectful with my tattoos. So if you are inked up or pierced, you should still make an effort to respect your potential employer.
First, when interviewing, cover up tattoos and remove facial piercings. This will show your respect for the employer – even if they can see that I have a hole in either side of my nostrils, they appreciate the fact that I chose to remove them. Once hired, inquire about tattoo policies and have a conversation with management about your tattoos. Respect the employer’s policy, instead of attempting to change it.