Tattoo Counting as New Hiring Practice

Discussion
Jul 29, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It wasn’t that long ago that tattoos were viewed as an expression
of social deviance, perhaps with the exception of those serving on a naval
vessel during a time of war.

Today, however, large numbers of young adults and teens
sport body art and body piercings. For some older managers and retail store
customers, these expressions of personal style are disconcerting. There is
no real evidence to suggest, biases aside, that a tattoo or two is an indication
that a potential employee is unfit for hire.

There is, however, a study conducted
by researchers at Texas Tech that found college students with four or more
tattoos or seven or more piercings are more likely to engage in behavior such
as drug use and cheating on tests. The research, which surveyed over 1,700
students at four colleges in the U.S., found 37 percent had at least one piercing
and 14 percent were tattooed. Only four percent reported having four or more
tattoos and/or seven or more piercings.

The study’s findings, which were published
in the January issue of the Social
Science Journal
and summarized in a report on Miller-McCune Online,
concluded respondents within the four percent group "were
substantially and significantly more likely to report regular marijuana
use, occasional use of other drugs, and a history of being arrested for
a crime. Less pronounced, but still significant in many cases, was an increased
propensity for those with higher incidence of body art to cheat on college
work, binge drink and report having had multiple sex partners over the
course of their lifetime."

Discussion Questions: Should the number of tattoos and/or piercings have
any place in assessing a candidate for a potential job with a retailer? Do
current practices at retail do a good job of screening out problem employees
before they are hired, regardless of personal appearance?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

27 Comments on "Tattoo Counting as New Hiring Practice"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
10 years 9 months ago

While I’d like to say that appearances don’t matter and it is substance that counts, that isn’t the reality of human nature. At retail, the store personnel are a critical component of the brand and that includes their appearance. However, there is not one answer for all retailers other than doing the right thing and abiding by the labor laws.

Think about your shopper. For mass outlets targeting those of us suburbanites in our 40s and 50s, store uniforms, mandates for cleanliness, groomed hair and minimal body piercing might be critical for us feeling comfortable with the personnel. In stores targeting much cooler 20-somethings, more trendy hair and tattoos might be just the right profile. As GenXers and Millenials age so will their tattoos and the rest of us will have to just get used to it.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Well, this should make for an interesting discussion board this morning! All of us BrainTrust Panelists will have to fight hard to hold back our biases based on our ages!

Look around you on the streets (and in my own home!) and it’s hard to deny that tattoos are now closer to the norm than the exception. They can’t be viewed as being ‘deviant’ any longer.

Here’s the thing though: Your staff should reflect your customers. So, if your customer base is ‘older’ and not prone to accepting tattoos then you’d probably be wise to avoid them. It goes without saying that the teen retailers shouldn’t care at all.

Take the ‘extreme’ cases of tattooing and piercing out of the discussion and for the most part I think it’s a non-issue these days.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Tattoos are a lot more mainstream today than they were ten and twenty years ago, however, it’s still up to the employer to determine whether or not tattoos on their employees might negatively impact their company’s image. In any case, in an ideal word it would not matter, but as we know the business and retail worlds are anything but ideal.

Sorry kiddies, that’s a fact of life.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 9 months ago

Many people believe the human body is just fine in the unembellished form in which it is created. A rapidly growing number of people believe it is like a Christmas tree that is enhanced by ornamentation. This has put the retailer in the middle on which human to hire.

As Shakespeare might have characterized this dilemma, To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo, that is the hiring question. All other things equal, I go with the person without the tattoo or nose ring since they might be distracting.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I don’t believe there is any way to pick out which people will be better or lesser employees based on body art. HOWEVER, when hiring people for retail, the key demographic is your customer base and you must have a sense of how they feel about tattoos and piercings. You can “do the right thing” in hiring and still hurt your business. Typically customers with tattoos and piercings will shop a mainstream retailer without much regard for whether or not an employee has body art. A percentage of customers without body art will view employees with tattoos and piercings very differently.

Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
So if I understand the research right, most people with multiple tattoos are perfectly normal people. My nephew is a case in point. Young guy with lots of ink, the nose ring, enlarged ear lobes and multiple other piercings. He’s also got a 4.0 and is being offered jobs by almost everyone he meets. When my father (a Baptist minister) died, my nephew took off all his metal to go to the funeral out of respect. Frankly, if we ever found out who among our colleagues actually has a tattoo or two somewhere, I think we’d be shocked. More of an issue for me is what is pictured in the tattoo. As a student of energetics I think that if someone has “Born to raise Hell” tattooed somewhere, he/she probably will; don’t hire them. Somewhat similar to Emoto’s water crystal research where the labels put on the vials determined the crystalline structure, the message of the tattoo is ‘read’ by the body’s cells. A tattoo of a broken heart will perpetuate whatever heartache prompted getting… Read more »
Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

The amount and placement of tattoos and body piercings shouldn’t disqualify candidates for employment, provided that the “body art” is consistent with the overall brand position and customer profile of the retailer. On the other hand, retailers will want to avoid this kind of hire if their target consumer is uncomfortable with it.

As to the correlation between tattoos and the kind of behavior cited in the Texas Tech study, it would be interesting to understand whether the “science” behind it stands up. It’s just possible that an employer might pass over a great associate if he/she judges too much on surface characteristics rather than work history, references, and so on.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

It is difficult to see how the number of tattoos a person has can be used as a guide for hiring. I can’t wait to see the first lawsuit involving a candidate who was asked to completely disrobe so their tattoos could be accurately counted!

On the other hand, businesses do have the right to require certain standards of appearance. I have two daughters living/working in college towns (liberal ones I might add) who work in service industries. Both regularly encounter employers–particularly higher end dining establishments and retailers–who have a “no visible tattoos and no metal beyond the ears” policy. That’s reasonable. Even my expressive–but discreet–daughters agree.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Employers never know for sure if the person they did not hire would have been a better hire. All a company can do is to build the best selection system possible using all of the tools available to try and put the odds of selecting the best in their favor. That starts by understanding their own culture and hiring to that culture. If tattoos and body piercing fits the culture, go for it.

What I find interesting is the comment that it’s not the fact that someone has a tattoo, it’s what the tattoo stands for and conveys that is important.

Would you hire someone who showed up for work with a hat or pin on that said I hate work?

How strongly would you have to feel about something to have it tattooed on your body and carry it around for the rest of your life?

Robert Immel
Guest
Robert Immel
10 years 9 months ago

Since the Symbol for our Justice System is Lady Justice, BLINDFOLDED, using scales, I think the hiring system should do just the same. Hire based on qualifications, and factors related to the job. The person’s appearance should have NOT weight in the matter.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Entirely up to the retailer. The applicant with oversized ear gauges and a nose ring must understand that the prospect of employment at Nordstrom probably just went out the window. Like it or not, people who want to show that they’re out of the mainstream are probably going to find that the mainstream agrees with them.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I agree with many of my clients that if you have visible tattoos and piercings, then you just can’t work here. Let’s face facts. You can’t have employees interacting with customers if those employees are going to offend customers by their immature expressions. Tattoos and piercings are fine if you are working for a tattoo parlor, motorcycle gang bar, or head shop. But certainly not in most retail settings.

Unfortunately a lot of young people do not realize they have branded themselves as troubled, immature, and lacking self esteem, and often it might not be true. But that is the message they send to employers.

Jesse Rooney
Guest
Jesse Rooney
10 years 9 months ago
I have a tongue piercing, long hair, and a handlebar mustache, and I can testify that an unconventional appearance is both a boon and a bane in any career. A distinctive look draws attention from people, both for good and ill. When I was younger and less confidant, my appearance was, to an extent, a way of distancing myself from others, and I think this is the case with a lot of young people who adopt unique appearances. Now that I am more mature, I view my unusual appearance as a potential asset as everyone I encounter remembers me and all I need do is make sure they leave with a smile to ensure I am warmly greeted in the future. My friends who also have body modifications have reported similar experiences in their careers. By and large I’ve found that appearance can make initial introductions more or less difficult, but in the end it is poise and how one carries oneself that really makes the difference. The gut feeling a hiring manager has about… Read more »
Joseph Pelletier
Guest
Joseph Pelletier
10 years 9 months ago

As a business professional, I tend to agree with typical dress code and hiring requirements. However, also being a person with over 150 hours of tattoo work, I disagree with the perpetuation of the tattoo stereotype. It is unfortunate that this study has found these conclusions, but equally unfortunate that they only serve to further the preconceptions about the tattooed population.

Despite my tattoos, I am a 28-year-old with a PhD, two Masters degrees, and a very good job. Although I understand that I am not in the majority of tattooed individuals, I feel that I am an important part of an underestimated minority. As I keep my tattoos completely covered in professional environments, my employer hired me without being aware of my tattoos. However, they have been very pleased with my work and seem, as a result, less convinced of the negative personal characteristics typically associated with tattoos.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

When an associate is dealing with the public in retail, appearances DO COUNT. Depending upon the retail business involved, and the visibility of the markings/jewelry, each situation has to be dealt with separately.

The retailer sets the standard on the front end. Everybody, including the associate knows the policy, and then retailer and associate can move forward to serve the customer–that’s the individual who counts in this equation.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 9 months ago

Psychologically, piercings, tattoos, etc, all say look at me! What you have to find out when hiring is why this need exists. In many cases, it is due to feelings of inferiority. People feel they aren’t accepted and look for a way to be accepted. Often acceptance can be accomplished by outwardly mimicking others. However, in the case of tattoos and piercings the candidate has mimicked “bad influences” and this very often transfers to the workplace.

My advice is to go down to your local Chick-fil-A. Sit down with the owner and ask him how he hires people and where he gets them from. Now actually do some work and look for people who will help you build your business. Cancel the above if you are a Starbucks franchisee, or opening a tattoo parlor or head shop.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Count me as one whose bias is against visible art tattoos, no matter the count, on job applicants. Yes, I understand this is a new, more modern generation. I simply can’t understand why someone would do this to their body and call it art. In golf, their are no erasers on the pencils or the scorecards. There are no erasers for body art either. Do it and it is your statement forever. No changing one’s mind.

If one has a small tattoo hidden from normal sight under business clothes, I am ok with it. But the visible “artwork” covering one’s arms or legs is a distraction that most managers would consider a strong reason not to hire. I do not find it attractive or becoming on either a man or woman.

Jeremy Lambertsen
Guest
Jeremy Lambertsen
10 years 9 months ago

The BrainTrust members’ age isn’t the biasing factor, experience in business is the factor. As a member of GenX with ten plus years in finance and management, I agree with most of their comments. Visible tattoos, and particularly the types that young Americans get, are not appropriate in most business sectors. As my cohort goes to work in corporate America, they cover up their tattoos. When I talk to millennials considering tattoos, I advise them to avoid the neck, face and full sleeves. Visible tattoos limit future possibilities. The more area covered by tattoos, the more limited your future is. If you don’t want to limit yourself, your future jobs, or your future income, don’t get tattoos.

Tim Smith
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Comes down to attitude and the person. Born to Raise Hell or multi-degreed, professional with drive, ambition and flair? How will their attitude affect customers and co-workers?

Catherine Hamilton
Guest
Catherine Hamilton
10 years 9 months ago

Absolutely!!! There is nothing more repulsive to a customer than a sales associate covered in tattoos and body piercings. Not to mention baggy, sloppy and wrinkled clothing.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Though I have to confess to sharing similar thinking, I think the polling question, as well as many of the responses (some of which sound like they were pulled from the pages of the Jan 1951 issue of “High School Principal”) miss the point: sure it’s easy to choose when the only difference between candidates is a ‘too…but what do you do when your clearly best qualified candidate is the one sporting one? As for the SSJ study, until they can find the one clearly visible trait that 100% of great employees have–and 100% of bad employees don’t–these kinds of correlations aren’t all that useful.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 9 months ago

I would never hire anybody if they had my competitor’s logo tattooed on their forehead.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 9 months ago

The only logo I would want my employees to have is a Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche, or a Loyalty 360 tattoo. I think Phil Rubin is getting a Loyalty 360 tattoo. Let me know when you need the art.

Seriously though. I think that it is a tricky subject. I know some of my employees have “tats” that I cannot nor want to see. Yet, I run conferences and am very focused on loyalty/engagement and therefore the number of employee facing “tats” and piercings is a concern and you also have to be concerned about then perceptions of your end users and potential end users. Biases, inherent or not, usually have some factual / empirical standing. Someone with a small tat or two, or ear piercing is one thing, but someone with a piercing you can drive a Mack Truck through with purple hair, there are probably a number of “issues” that probably you do not want to come out in a client engagement. Yet we need to be PC these days. 🙂

Anne O'Neill
Guest
Anne O'Neill
10 years 9 months ago

I will NEVER lose a customer because my employee does not have tattoos or piercings.

Steven Collinsworth
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Like it or not, employees are representative of your company. The reality; tattoos in and of themselves aren’t a bad thing. But, mainstream? They are more accepted, but I don’t think they are mainstream. It is still considered an act of defiance and/or rebellion for many.

If I see someone with a lot of tattoos and piercings, I am turned off. I know in the conservative circles I run around in, my friends believe this as well.

Phil Rubin
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

While I would never get a tattoo or other “body art” and all things equal prefer employees without such decor, if i did, it would undoubtedly be one of the sporty Loyalty360 ones that Mark Johnson referenced above.

And for those of you considering other tattoos or who might have already taken the plunge, make sure you check out this video that is perhaps the best documentation on the subject, courtesy of SNL….

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
10 years 9 months ago

Ultimately, the question here (as so often elsewhere on RetailWire) revolves around the types of customers and their needs. If you are dealing with corporate clients and small business people (such as an OfficeMax), then you want to have clothing, behavior, etc, that matches your client. That usually today still includes no piercing. If you are selling coffee at a cool coffee shop, then I think the standard should be much different.

Ultimately, you want to make customers feel comfortable and that often means you should resemble them in some way. The needs of the customer should ultimately drive the decision, not a personal value system, whatever that might be.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

If you had two people equally qualified, one with multiple tattoos or piercings and the other with none, whom would you hire?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...