Should tattoos still be taboo?

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One in three people aged 29 to 44 now have a tattoo somewhere on their body. Tattoo parlours are a familiar sight on the high street and body art has become increasingly socially acceptable.

Yet it seems the workplace isn’t keeping up with the trend - particular when it comes to tattoos that can’t be covered up with clothing. Research by King’s College London and workplace experts ACAS published in September 2016 suggests that employers in many professions will still often think twice about hiring candidates with visible tattoos.

In your business, have you ever passed over a candidate because they had a tattoo clearly on show? As UK workplace equality law doesn’t protect body art you are perfectly within your rights to do so, unless that tattoo is connected to someone’s religion or beliefs. However, it might be time to take a fresh approach.

One size does not fit all

Of course, a lot depends on your business. Traditional client-facing industries are more likely to view tattoos as no-go for because they’re seen as potentially off putting for clients.

Yet in creative sectors like the media and arts, which value individual thinking and expression, body art is more common and perhaps even a positive. There’s evidence that tattooed candidates do better in interviews for bar and club roles - basically companies aimed at younger people - as they’re viewed as cool brand assets.

At HR GO, we meet new candidates every day and know that when it comes to visible body art, the size, location and content of tattoos are important factors. Clearly, there’s a difference between a small, discreet flower on someone’s wrist, and a heavily inked neck graphic creeping across the face that could be seen as intimidating. Tattoos with racist or offensive content or connotations can never be acceptable.

Are you missing out on great candidates?

But ACAS believes that if your business has a blanket ban on recruiting anyone with a visible tattoo, you could be unknowingly missing top talent who can help you achieve your goals. It points to the benefits an organisation can gain from a diverse workforce, and being able to tap into the knowledge and skills of staff from different backgrounds.

As its head of equality Stephen Williams highlights, 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.

Don’t leave it tattoo late

Not only are Gen Y/Millennials rising up the management ranks, but Gen Z are now leaving school and starting to enter the workplace. This means tattoos will become even more common and socially acceptable - and these new generations of staff will expect employers’ attitudes to change.

So depending on your type of business, can you afford to hold a bias against body art for much longer?

After all, an outstanding candidate who’s not only the perfect fit for your latest vacancy but who could have also played a key role in your business’ long-term success may have spotted your job ad but balked from applying. Why? They know your company only recruits staff that haven’t been under the needle…

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