Behind the Ink: Local Employers Talk Tattoos in the Workplace

JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – With the increasing popularity of tattoos as a form of expression, the idea that simply having a visible tattoo will hurt your job prospects may be a thing of the past.

The heightened acceptance, and commonality, of tattoos in American culture is often visible at any well-attended public event, but actual research by The Harris Poll showed that about three in every ten Americans has at least one tattoo, a distinct increase from roughly two in ten polled in 2011, with nearly half of Millennials and more than a third of Gen Xers polled sporting ink.

With more and more people choosing tattoos as a form of self-expression, especially among those in the most heavily employed age groups, the old taboo against visible tattoos in the workplace has slowly started to become obsolete in many industries.

According to an article published last month in the Harvard Business Review, a survey conducted by University of Miami researchers indicates that individuals with tattoos were no less likely to be gainfully employed than those without tattoos, and average earnings among both groups were the same.

ExploreJeffersonpa.com spoke to some local employers in a range of different fields to get a sense for different policies and attitudes about tattoos in our region. Surprisingly, most of them were quite open to tattoos in their businesses.

Even in social service and healthcare fields, the winds of change are gusting.

According to Deb Andreas, the Executive Director of New Light – an agency that helps support individuals with special needs in community living arrangements throughout Clarion, Armstrong, Indiana, Clearfield, and Jefferson Counties – tattoos are a non-issue.

“We have no policy addressing tattoos. We don’t limit them and they have not created any problem in our programs.”

On the same note, larger employers in the healthcare field are reconsidering old policies.

According to a representative of the Human Resources Department at Punxsutawney Hospital, while they have an old policy in place stating that employees must cover their tattoos at work, that may be changing soon.

“We’ve kind of been evaluating whether or not we need to relax that now with so many more people with tattoos,” stated the representative.

“Some hospitals are going with the idea that as long as they’re not offensive, tattoos don’t have to be covered. We just haven’t changed our policy yet, but that’s something we’re looking at.”

Some employers in the business world are more focused – for the most part – on the employees’ demeanor.

Kyle Forsythe, owner and broker at Pro-Market Realty, Inc. in Brookville, voiced that he has no specific policies in place about tattoos in the office and does have some employees with tattoos.

“As a business owner, I want to make customers comfortable. It is something I would think twice about. I understand it is a person expressing themselves, so I think the tattoo itself would have more to do with it. It depends on where the tattoo is and a person’s overall presentation.”

According to Ann Landes, owner of Michelle’s Cafe in Clarion, tattoos are intrinsic to this generation – for the most part.

“Everybody has tattoos today.”

“It’s a generational thing, being tattooed. Even five years ago, maybe a little more, it was different, but not anymore.”

Landes did note that being a coffee shop, she considers her business a more relaxed atmosphere, while some other fields may not be as accepting.

“I could see a corporate person, buttoned up in a suit and tie, maybe doesn’t want to see tattoos with that, but as long as it’s not showing, who cares? It’s a personal thing.”

The retail sales business has also seen a change in the attitude and perception of tattoos.

Jim Crooks, owner of Crooks Clothing in Clarion, said that tattoos are widely accepted in the world of retail sales now, while even just ten years ago, they were not.

“I think in the professional world, in the conservative finance world and the banking world, they might be more offensive to some, but retail is a lot of art. There’s a real art side to retail,” Crooks said.

“I think obviously it’s a generational thing, tattoos. I get that, I understand that. Personally, I don’t completely understand them from the standpoint of the amount of money that people spend on this body art, and I can tell you there are still people that are very turned off by it, but I don’t have a problem with it. It wouldn’t matter here.”

Alyssa Morrison, manager of JC Penny Salon in Clarion, noted that tattoos definitely tend to be accepted in creative fields.

“Being in the industry I am in where creative juices flow constantly from one stylist to another I do not mind tattoos and allow them in my salon. Our corporate policy allows them. Nothing has to be covered. You are free to show yourself and the creative side in which you embody,” said Morrison.

“I do feel that sometimes we have the older generation looking at my stylists like they are crazy or even making comments about it, but it doesn’t affect them coming back. They always come back.”

Likewise, tattoos are quite common in the kitchens of many restaurants.

Darren Troese, manager of Daddy’s Main Street in Clarion, stated that “being a chef, it’s almost encouraged by your peers.”

“Tattoos for some in the industry are a right of passage. Like ‘This is what I do, I’m not doing anything else.’ I’ve never met a customer that was totally put off by it. They are pretty prevalent now, and I get more compliments than anything.”

While it might not be surprising that some industries, like food service and retail, have let go of the stigma of the past when it comes to tattoos in the workplace, it seems that other industries have begun to do the same.

Even in the more niche field of antique sales, which often caters to a slightly older generation, tattoos have become acceptable in many places.

“I think everybody is more accommodating today than they have been in the past about people being different or having ink on their body,” said Ivan Harris, owner of The Refinery in Franklin, an antique outlet.

While Harris said they don’t currently have anyone working at The Refinery with tattoos, that he’s aware of, it wouldn’t be a problem there at all.

“I wouldn’t even think twice about it if they did, even if it were full body tattoos. We have a good friend who has a lot of tattoos, and he may look intimidating, but he is one of the nicest people.”

In some industries, tattoos are so common that it is almost standard.

“Most construction workers have tattoos,” said Randy Stover, owner of Venango County Construction Company.

“I don’t, but a lot do. I don’t see it as a problem, but it depends on where they’re at. I would imagine it could have some affect on some customers, if someone had them on their neck, I could see that. But being in construction, being outside, so long as it’s not in your face, I don’t see it as a problem.”

While old stereotypes about tattoos are changing, other stereotypes, like that of a librarian, should probably be reexamined, as well.

According to Clarion County Library System Administrator, and Clarion Borough Mayor, Dan Parker, tattoos on library staff members are generally acceptable, as well.

“The Clarion Free Library has no policy on tattoos. We really just want our employees to be neat and clean and to present themselves in a professional manner. If they have visible tattoos, it’s not a big deal for me or the Library’s Board of Directors, so long as it doesn’t detract from their work,” Parker said.

“As the Administrator of the Clarion County Library System, I know of other Library Directors in the county who have gotten some flak for their tattoos…not from their Board of Directors, but from their patrons. It was very upsetting for them. They made a decision to cover their tattoos – which are really beautifully done – when they are at work. Librarians all try to make our patrons feel welcome and comfortable at the library, so I can understand why she did it, but it was her choice.”

Parker also said that when it all comes down to it, the work being done is far more important than whether the individual doing the work does or does not have tattoos.

“On the whole, I think people come into the library because they need something, maybe it’s a book or access to the internet, or maybe it’s for information on their medical diagnosis, or how to help their kids read better…as long as their need is met in a friendly, professional manner, I don’t think most people care if they get help from a tattooed librarian or not.”

“As a profession, librarians are a pretty open-minded group. I go to library conferences and you see visible tattoos, piercings, and hair of every color. It’s become commonplace. And, some of the best librarians I know have a tattoo…some visible, some not. The library profession is one that seeks out literate, creative, and tech-savvy people, and if those people come with tattoos, it doesn’t matter so long as they can do the work.”

Parker’s point of view seems to sum up a great deal of what local employers had to say: they seek out employees who are a good fit for the jobs they offer, whether they have tattoos or not.

RELATED:

Behind the Ink: Local Industry Insiders Talk Tattoos, Industry Changes, Popularization

Ink in Our Area: Locals Talk Tattoos, Stigma, Changing Attitudes


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