The research isn’t exact, but a recent poll shows that up to half of Americans under 40 have a tattoo, which has implications for the job market.
Hinterhaus Productions | Stone | Getty Images
The growing battle to attract and retain workers has led employers to adjust their longstanding labor and hiring policies, from embracing hybrid and remote working to eliminating college degree requirements. A less covered policy is also changing: the visible display of tattoos on workers.
Companies such as Disney, UPS and Virgin Atlantic have relaxed their dress and style codes to allow employees to show off their tattoos in the workplace. Many of the moves have taken place over the past two years, as the tight job market that preceded Covid has become even more intensely competitive during the pandemic.
when long Home deposit CFO Carol Tomé has been named CEO of UPS in June 2020, many of its early efforts to shake up the parcel delivery giant focused on increasing job satisfaction for the company’s more than 534,000 workers worldwide. A few of these initiatives centered around the company’s dress and style restrictions.
“We didn’t allow facial hair; we didn’t allow natural hair. So if you’re African American and you wanted to have an afro or a twist or a braid, that wasn’t allowed. Our tattoo policy was more restrictive than the United States Army,” Tomé told CNBC last year.
UPS, well known for its regimented maroon uniform and driver dress code, acknowledged that it needed to make changes that would “create a more modern workplace for our employees, allowing them to bring their authentic selves to work”, said Christopher Bartlett, vice president of UPS. president of peoples and culture.
Initially, UPS reviewed its hair and beard policies, which previously prohibited men from having hair that extended below the collar or beard. The adjusted policy, rolled out in November 2020, now allows “professionally worn” beards and mustaches, as well as several “natural hairstyles”. The policy, however, states that employees must maintain a neat and clean appearance “suitable for their work and workplace”, and that the length of hair or beard cannot be a safety concern.
Changing views on tattoos at work
Bartlett said that after this policy was well received, UPS began considering changes to its tattoo policy. Previously, the company prohibited employees from showing visible tattoos – tattooed workers had to cover them with long sleeves or pants, or flesh-colored coverings.
After a series of culture surveys, discussions with employees and other research, UPS adopted a new policy announced in April 2021 that would allow employees to show off their tattoos provided they did not contain offensive words or images. Workers are also not allowed to have tattoos on their hands, head, neck or face.
“Tattoos do matter to people, and while there was a time when people could get tattoos on a whim, more often than not a tattoo really matters to someone; it’s part of who he is,” Bartlett said. “We wanted people to feel like they could bring themselves to work not just in their current job, but thinking about their whole career.”
disneyThe Parks Division underwent a similar change in April 2021, updating its dress and style code to allow workers to show off their tattoos, which it said was part of a larger effort for its employees and its guests feel more welcome at its theme parks.
The policy change “provides greater flexibility regarding forms of self-expression surrounding gender-neutral hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume choices; and allowing for appropriate visible tattoos. “, Josh D’Amaro, President of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, written in a blog post on the Disney website.
“We’re updating them to not only stay relevant in today’s workplace, but to allow our cast to better express their workplace cultures and individuality,” D’Amaro wrote.
According to the Disney Cast Member Handbook, visible tattoos that are no larger than an outstretched hand are allowed, with the exception of those on the face, head, or neck. For larger tattoos on the arm or leg, employees can wear matching fabric tattoo sleeves. Any tattoos that depict nudity, offensive or inappropriate language, or violate company policies are also prohibited.
Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
Virgin Atlantic, the British airline owned by Richard Branson, lifted its ban on visible tattoos for uniformed employees in May. Estelle Hollingsworth, director of human resources at Virgin Atlantic, said in an emailed statement: “Many people use tattoos to express their unique identity and our customer-facing and uniformed colleagues should not not be excluded from doing so if they wish.”
The U.S. military took similar action, rolling out an updated directive in June, further expanding its tattoo allowance, including hand and neck tattoos. The army earlier relaxed restrictions that limited the number of tattoos recruits and soldiers could have on their arms and legs in 2015.
“We are always reviewing the policy to ensure that the military remains an option open to as many people as possible who want to serve,” said Major General Doug Stitt, director of military personnel management. army press service. “This directive makes sense for soldiers currently serving and allows more talented people to have the opportunity to serve now.”
According to the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, 41% of 18 to 34 year olds have at least one or more tattoos.
Enrica Ruggs, an associate professor in the department of management and leadership at the University of Houston’s CT Bauer College of Business, said there has long been a negative stigma towards tattoos that are reminiscent of biker culture and the feeling that rebellious people were those with tattoos. This carried over to corporate culture, where hiring managers stereotyped candidates with visible tattoos, or where employers worried that employing someone with tattoos would put off customers.
However, Ruggs said recent search found that most tattoos now reflect a sense of place – for example, memorial images, reminders of their culture or profession, or a tattoo that matches that of a loved one.
Ruggs conducted an experiment measuring customer reaction to workers wearing temporary tattoos. While some customers still had negative stereotypes about tattoos, employees with tattoos had as many sales as those without tattoos. Negative stereotypes also did not negatively affect customers’ perception of the organization. In fact, tattooed employees in white-colored or creative jobs were viewed more favorably and more competently than non-tattooed employees by customers, according to Ruggs’ research.
“Part of the argument has always been that it will hurt the organization and it might actually change a consumer’s buying behavior,” Ruggs said. “But if the lifeblood of your business is service, that doesn’t change, but allowing and relaxing some of these policies can help boost employee morale and expand the number of people you can hire, which can help improve employee performance. If employees are happy and feel satisfied with their employee, they are also likely to be highly productive.”
Although there are no exact statistics regarding tattoos, a January Rasmussen Reports investigation found that nearly half of Americans under 40 have tattoos. Across all ages, 33% of Americans have tattoos, according to the survey.
The New York City Council currently has a bill that would seek to address discrimination against people with tattoos, including in the workplace. The bill would add tattoos to categories in the city’s administrative code that are already prohibited from discrimination like race or sexual orientation. While this would still allow employers to require employees to cover up tattoos, it would require them to prove that not showing a tattoo is a “bona fide job qualification”.
Bartlett said that after UPS changed its policy, he noticed several employees posting their UPS-themed tattoos on the company’s internal bulletin board.
“When someone puts a UPS logo on them after a 25-year driving career here, it matters, and it shows the company matters to them,” he said. “It’s not a P&L game here, but it’s about inclusion and bringing your authentic self to work.”
Join us October 25-26, 2022 for the CNBC Work Summit — Dislocation, Negotiation, and Determination: The World of Work Right Now. Visit CNBC Events to register.