JobsInTheUS recently posted a poll on their newsletter asking employers, Would you hire someone with visible tattoos that could not be covered up at work?
This is an intriguing question, and one that really deserves more than just a passing glance. With the results in, only 44% of respondents answered YES, indicating that they would hire someone with visible tattoos. Despite the prevalence of body art in pop culture today, this practice is viewed negatively by 56% of employers. Is this just good business, or does this practice hurt an organization’s ability to hire great employees?
For the past couple years, I’ve been living within a short distance of a handful of well-known and well-respected colleges and universities. Walking around this area in the springtime, it’s clear that the number of educated, young adults choosing to get tattoos is on the rise. This trend will force employers to examine what we value in our candidates; and to look inward at our own prejudices and how they affect our hiring decisions.
I don’t believe anyone would argue that a tattoo negatively affects an employee’s ability to perform the responsibilities associated with any job (aside from modeling perhaps). Having a tattoo will not make a candidate less able to balance your books, replace a ball joint, or administer medication. The fear, as several employers have expressed to me, is that visible tattoos will turn away clients, and therefore affect the bottomline. In nearly all cases, this is unfounded. In truth, people are more likely to express interest in the body art, provided the employee is polite, well-spoken, and respectful. Tattoos are commonplace in our media today- movies, television, and print, and as a result, more young people find this practice to be acceptable within our culture.
So here we are at the crossroads of cultural norms, hiring best practices, personal biases, and the bottomline of your business. This is familiar ground for employers, and human resources professionals in particular. Yet, somehow, it’s never a comfortable place to be, no matter how often you’re involuntarily dropped here. Yes, more and more qualified, educated, and self-motivated young people are getting tattoos today. Yes, it’s what inside that counts, and when making hiring decisions, what’s truly important is that a candidate can successfully perform the functions of the job; and contribute to the culture of an organization. Yes, we are all affected by inner biases that affect our decision making abilities. And, Yes, hiring a person with visible tattoos into a customer-facing position, could potentially turn off some customers.
While for many employers the decision on whether or not to hire a candidate with visible tattoos is largely dependent on the type of job being filled, I would suggest that this practice is limiting to your overall talent acquisition strategy. When considering criteria for anything, I like to use an absolutist approach. Ask yourself this- which is better for your organization as a whole, a candidate who’s skills, abilities, knowledge, and personality are all perfectly aligned with your job, but who has a tattoo; or a candidate who is deficient in skills, abilities, knowledge, and personality, but who has no tattoos? Without knowing anything about your business, I do know which one will require greater supervision, training, and performance management.Ultimately, until tattoos become part of a protected class, employers have the right to make hiring decisions based on this practice. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how your organization identifies and selects new hires, only what works best for you. If your hiring practices serve to reduce turnover, increase productivity, and support the overall results of your business, then there’s no need to change. If, on the other hand, what you’re doing now isn’t currently working for you, perhaps someone out there with a tattoo on their hand can help.