The millennial culture has the ability to change our work environments more than any other occurrence. They do not just add another group to diverse categories, they bring with them an air of individuality and an attitude that makes their arrival seem intriguing and arrogant at the same time. Millennials’ entrance into the workforce are making companies adjust their company culture to attract these young, talented professionals. They want competitive pay, more vacation time, and the company to be located in a city with entertainment and nightlife, plus a training program to move up the company ladder. More important than all those perks is the millennials desire to be comfortable in their own skin. This means embracing their diversity, both visible and non-visible, all while being proud of the characteristics that make them different. They want to work for a company that will appreciate their diversity and allow them to build their professional career.
What exactly is diversity and what is just plain unprofessional?
Diversity in the workplace can mean a lot of different things to your workforce. It can mean hiring African Americans, Hispanics, women, or people from the LGBT community. It may mean embracing policies that will protect and create an equitable playing field for all groups, i.e. insurance for same sex couples or paternity leave for fathers with newborn children. Instead of saying Merry Christmas, maybe you switch to Happy Holidays.
The reality is that diversity encompasses all of those things, including how we style our hair, the clothes we choose to wear and the foods we eat, among other choices. Diversity has become a hot topic in the workforce. The choices we make about our hair, clothes and food among others can drive human resource managers crazy as they try to figure out what falls under the umbrella of diversity and what characteristics are unprofessional.
One such topic is that of tattoos. There has been a huge resurgence of tats in the workplace with the influx of millennials. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials in the workforce made up 15.7 million U.S. employees in 2013.
The millennial marketing website says that 54% of millennials have gotten a tattoo, dyed their hair an untraditional color, or had a body piercing another place besides their earlobe.
Additionally, the website states that 36% of millennials have gotten a tattoo, 40% of Gen X have at least one tattoo, and many have multiples. This is in sharp contrast to only 10% of those over 40 who admit they have a tattoo.
What is the draw of putting permanent ink on your body? A Next Great Generation blog by Adam Stefano eloquently states that tattoos are a defining mark. “Tattoos are an art form. Some people like oil paintings, others like ancient sculptures. I think there is nothing more beautiful than a well-inked tattoo. I love the stories behind tattoos. Most tattoos have meaning, and generally, it represents an important moment in a person’s life. There’s something compelling about the permanence of a tattoo.”
Do companies agree with Stefano’s assessment?
Some companies will agree that tattoos can be a distraction at work even giving off an air of unprofessionalism. Some tattoos are vulgar or simply may not be the look that a company wishes to associate with the brand that have built. You will find a spectrum of thoughts on the issue. One side of the spectrum says it is without a doubt unprofessional. In those jobs, you will have to cover your tattoos in order to work there.
According to a Careerbuilder.com survey, 31% of human resource managers said visible tattoos could have a negative impact on their decision of whether to hire someone.
Some people have small tats that are easily covered by their clothing making the company none the wiser but some people sport sleeves, which is when your arm is covered in tats from your shoulder to your wrist. Sleeves can inevitably cause you not to get a job or to be judged as unprofessional.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are more companies accepting of tattoos than they were even 10 years ago.
It depends on the company and its culture. The banking industry may not be the place to sport your sleeve of tats but a more progressive industry such as event or sports management may be the perfect fit for your artistic body canvas.
In a USA Today article titled “Workplace Tattoo Taboos Fading,” Joseph O’Grady, a professor of business at Burlington’s Champlain College says there are three underlying concerns employers have with hiring people with body art. They are:
- the belief that an employee will not be taken seriously by tradition-minded clients;
- the concern that an organizations brand or image might be compromised by outlandish tattoos;
- and the concern that one person’s body art could be perceived as offensive or hostile to a co-worker or customer.
Tattoos are a part of your personal branding. They display your beliefs or mantra for life. Your body is your personal canvas but do not expect that all companies will count it as diversity and embrace your individuality.
So many people with tattoos are entering the workforce that companies have to make a choice. Either pass up a skilled and talented but inked potential candidate or find someone without a tat who is just as qualified. As stated above, slightly over half of millennials are boasting ink, dyed hair and piercings. It will inevitably put companies in a position to look past these diverse characteristics.
The verdict. In some work environments, it may be acceptable but in others it may be the reason you do not get a job and it’s probably better to be able to provide food and shelter rather than living under a bridge starving. Unless of course, you can get someone to pay you to look at your impressive body art… stranger things have happened.