Graphic by Tara Thomas/22 West Magazine

Ink Versus Inc.

The future of tattoos in the workplace

By Tara Thomas, Art Director

The incoming American workforce is going to be one of the most inked generations on record. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of millennials have at least one tattoo or more. While this change is accepted and celebrated among millennials, it still prompts hesitation from older generations who are looking to hire fresh, new employees. In the same Pew Research study, it was found that only 1 percent of people over the age of 60 have tattoos and those who have them are usually associated with the rebelliousness of biker gangs and high sea sailors. Even so, it looks like tattoos are here to stay.

In recent years, millennials and Generation Z individuals have been changing the culture of the workplace. With the surge of collaborative workspaces and web-centered networking, casual Fridays are often an everyday standard. Progressive millennials and Gen. Z are changing the meaning of professionalism and what it entails, allowing the space for self-expression and fun to tie into their careers. While being highly skilled and having a general courteousness are universally expected standards for a professional employee, the rest is up for debate. These more nuanced regulations can vary by industry, and some careers are harder to progressively mold than others.

"Maybe they want to judge me, but I show them who I am and the skills I have and maybe make them rethink,” said Berndt.

According to Forbes, some career choices that are less accepting of tattoos and piercings include: healthcare, law, law enforcement, receptionists, finance, teachers, government positions and military. Many of these careers have strict rules about the tattoos in the workplace and require them to be covered up by clothing or makeup. Creative fields, on the other hand, are more open-minded and support applicants with body art. Lifestyle Youtuber Katrin Berndt, for example, talked about this issue in one of her recent videos. Berndt appreciates the privilege she has to work for herself at home and still makes a living. Occasionally, she goes to job interviews for other sources of income, but since she is not dependent on those jobs she tends to push the boundaries a bit with her appearance, ”I challenge their perceptions of people with tattoos. Maybe they want to judge me, but I show them who I am and the skills I have and maybe make them rethink,” said Berndt. On a more serious note, however, she insisted that if your passion for a certain career is stronger than your passion for tattoos, then tattoos might have to take a backseat. Berndt hopes that starting from the more lenient industries and pushing those bounders slowly will eventually lead to greater acceptance overall.

Tattoos provide an easy segway into conversations that get to the root of our personalities and values.

Looser guidelines may even be beneficial, especially when it comes to making individuals more comfortable interacting with professionals in formal settings. According to The Do, doctors with tattoos have testified that tattoos actually help them to connect with patients. Personally, I would agree. A few years back my father was in a motorcycle accident and I vividly remember being escorted through the hospital by a nurse with a prominent koi fish tattoo sleeve. It showed me that outside of his professional expertise he was a person with interests and passions; this was not just an emotionless drone with a degree. I felt confident that he was going to do everything in his power to make sure my father would continue to live a long and fulfilling life. I still think about that tattoo from time to time, it was something that transcended the sterile white walls and gave a sense of hope.

Along with self-expression, tattoos offer a way to connect with people on a deeper level. With our generation’s detrimental addiction to the screen, we have become awkward and hesitant to start conversations with strangers. Tattoos provide an easy segway into conversations that get to the root of our personalities and values. Maybe that’s something that job interviewers should be paying more attention to.