Workplace tattoos - the pros and cons

Could tattoos harm your employment prospects?
Could tattoos harm your employment prospects?
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To tattoo, or not to tattoo - that is the question. Or perhaps a more pertinent one would be: will having one affect your career prospects?

Granted, if you’re a pop star or a Premier League footballer, then you can get inked until your heart's content. But for the majority of us, it’s something that careful consideration needs to be given to before sauntering off down to your nearest parlour.

One in five people in the UK now have a tattoo, yet new research shows that many employers still have a negative attitude to body art in the workplace.

Ex-Apprentice star and well-known businesswoman Margaret Mountford certainly falls into that category. The former right-hand woman of Lord Sugar says that tattoos are not only “unhygienic”, but they seriously hinder a person’s chances of obtaining and holding down a job.

“They are a real problem for young people, because there are swathes of the workplace where it is simply not appropriate to be greeted by a young person with a tattoo,” says the 64-year-old. “In a reception area of a major company you do not want to be met by a young person with a tattoo up their arm.

“If you work in a hairdresser’s salon, people do not want to see a tattooed arm washing their hair, or in a restaurant serving them food. It’s not hygienic."

While Mountford is right in saying that tattoos are still far from widely accepted in workplace, there is evidence to suggest that attitudes to body art are slowly - but surely - starting to change.

Edinburgh-based tattoo artist Erik Grieve, who has inked celebrities like John Bishop, Daniel Sloss and Hazel O'Connor, has seen a distinct shift in what customers are comfortable having tattooed and where they are placed on the body.

"There is a surge in demand for tattoos on throats and hands, often among those who are younger," he says. "Whether it's right or wrong, people judge others based on appearance. It's instinctual.

"There may be a shift in social acceptance, and it does seem to be happening, but it's part of my job to make sure that my customers are aware that having a massive portrait of Donald Trump on their throat might affect their future prospects as a QC.

"My advice is to think about whether you want to be potentially limited by your ink," adds Grieve.

With more young people - nearly one in three - now having a tattoo, organisations are starting to look at whether banning tattoos in the workplace is counterproductive to business.

Research by workplace experts Acas has showed employers risk losing talented employees due to concerns about employing people with visible tattoos.

Stephen Williams, head of equality as Acas, says: "Almost a third of young people now have tattoos, so whilst it remains a legitimate business decision, a dress code that restricts people with tattoos might mean companies are missing out on talented workers."

Academic Andrew Timming at St Andrews University, who has researched the role of tattoos in hiring practices, sees a change in attitudes as inevitable.

In his research Dr Timming found there were some organisations where a tattoo might be deemed an asset - those marketing towards younger people, including pubs and clubs or in the creative industries where it can be seen as a sign of original thinking and individuality.

"Isn't that what employers are looking for these days? Someone who doesn't always toe the line?"

"Isn't Richard Branson talking about disruptive talent in the workplace? This is the kind of person who would fit that bill, I would think."

* Related article: Furious Doncaster mum claims she was refused hotel job because of her tattoos