Appearance versus professionalism: Tattoos in the workplace

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The frequency of tattoos in society has gone up exponentially within the last decade. With tattoos slowly becoming more accepted over time, one question raises on what employer’s impressions are concerning body modifications in the workplace. Because tattoos are on the rise, especially with millennials, it is difficult to anticipate future employers restrictions, if any, on the matter of professionalism.

The Harris Poll conducted research on tattoos in 2015 discovering that 3 in 10 people have tattoos in the United States. 47 percent of these tattooed individuals are made up of the millennial generation from ages 18 through 35 years old. Many who make up this generation have yet to settle into a career. There has been fear about having tattoos that will prevent them from obtaining the career in the field they want. However, tattoos seem to be more lenient in higher up job fields nowadays within the community because social norms are slightly shifting.

Evan Creasap, tattoo artist at Body Piercing Unlimited downtown, has been tattooing for almost six years. Throughout this time he has tattooed countless amounts of people, all with different jobs and careers. From doctors and CEO’s to the average person looking to decorate their body with Creasap’s unique artwork. During his time in this business, Creasap has noticed changes in society relating to tattoos and piercings.

“I think over time it has been a little bit more acceptable in society and in different workplaces, as time goes on I think that people are in certain industries where it has become more accepted in general,” Creasap said.

One program that is popular among students at UAA is the Nursing Program. Over the years, there has been a debate for nurses all over the U.S. determining if tattoos should be accepted in that job field. Some negatives are patients declining services from a nurse because they have tattoos and question the nurse’s professionalism and work ethic. Positives for nurses having tattoos are that patients are able to open up to a conversation, sometimes about the tattoos, and have a trustful relationship.

Whitney Branshaw, a graduate of the Nursing Program at UAA, has been a nurse at the Alaska Native Hospital for 13 years. Branshaw has been in the medical field as long as she has been tattooed and has found a way to connect to patients with her tattoos, and she shows her professionalism through education and skill level.

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Whitney Branshaw, graduate of the UAA Nursing Program showing off her tattoos Photo credit: Jovell Rennie

Branshaw has shown that appearance does not reflect work ethic, but also believes individuals should think wisely when getting tattoos when obtaining the education shooting for a specific career.

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“Getting a neck or hand tattoo is not a good idea if you haven’t gotten up to where you need to be in the industry where you feel secure, maybe you shouldn’t do something like that before reaching that goal, should you get ‘tittys and ass’ on your arm? Probably not,” Branshaw said.

Although body modifications have been working its way up throughout upper-middle-class jobs, there are some jobs that have a zero tattoo tolerance policy such as Texas Roadhouse.

Cjay Farve, server’s assistant at Texas Roadhouse, is required to wear a long sleeve under his work shirt in order to cover his tattoos before clocking on.

“Our tattoo policy is simple, we just can’t have any visible tattoos, which kind of sucks because I have three tats on my forearms,” Farve said. “From what I’ve been told, we have a policy for tats because it’s a family restaurant, but I don’t see how having visible tattoos in a family restaurant would be any harm to anyone.”

Some job titles may not be as strict on tattoo policies. However, there are still individuals in the community that do not appreciate tattoos on others in general. Even Creasap, professional tattoo artist, is questioned on his decisions for his own tattoos.

“It’s really interesting how many people have the audacity to come up to me and ask me what my reasoning is for a tattoo,” Creasap said. “I tell them to use their imagination because it’s none of their business and I was not thinking about their thoughts or opinions on my work when I got my tattoos done.”

It’s one thing for a job to decline you for appearance, but having others critique you for personal decisions can be questioning. There are countless amounts of reasons why individuals decide to get something permanently tattooed on their bodies such as memorials, personal stories, identity or even just for the artwork. Despite the reasoning for getting a tattoo, there will still be people out there who not approve.

“I learned to smile and nod, to be honest, I do not give two fucks what anybody thinks of me and my tattoos,” Branshaw said. “I am a very successful independent woman, who is a good mom, has a good career, and still manages to get respect from people as alternative as I look, so I really don’t give a shit what anybody thinks.”

When thinking about getting a tattoo, be aware that there are potential jobs out there that do not approve and will not hire because of it. Yet, there are alternatives if you desire a tattoo and feel strongly about getting one. One rule many people with tattoos follow is nothing below the elbow and nothing above the neck. This will allow any of those tattoos to be covered up when needed, or shown when desired. There are many different areas of the body that can be tattooed and easily covered up. Many jobs are becoming lenient on tattoos as long as they have clean tattoo work, unlike home tattoos, and nothing vulgar or offensive. From the looks of it, social norms relating to tattoos are changing; maybe there will be no need to cover up tattoos in the future.