Are you thinking of the ink? Tattoos impacting hires.

Public perceptions of tattoos mean that, regardless of personal opinion, many managers and recruiters turn down candidates with visible ink, a study from St Andrew’s University School of Management has found.


Interviewing recruiters in organisations ranging from hospitality, retail and the public sector, the research found many respondents viewed visible tattoos as a stigma, some claiming they made people appear “dirty”. 


 “Subconsciously, that would stop me from employing them,” one recruiter said. While not all managers expressed a disdain for tattoos, some claimed they would “think twice” about hiring an inked candidate due to public perception damaging their corporate image, Management Issues reported.


"Hiring managers realise that, ultimately, it does not matter what they think of tattoos. What really matters, instead, is how customers might perceive employees with visible tattoos," Dr Andrew Timming of St Andrew’s University School of Management, said.


As previously reported by Human Capital Magazine, Air NZ came under fire for refusing to hire a woman based on her ta moko – a traditional Maori tattoo.


Many of the respondents felt that customers and the general public may view tattooed workers as untidy or ‘repugnant’. The negative stereotypes that still persist paint tattooed individuals as criminals, despite their popularity in a plethora of subcultures and broader society.


In some cases, respondents acknowledged only certain tattoos would trigger concern – such as those associated with a criminal past (spider-webs or tear drops), sexual or violent imagery, or racist insignia such as swastikas. Tamer tattoos such as flowers or butterflies raised less concern, and those easily concealed were not seen as an issue.


However, some respondents saw tattoos as a positive. An HR manager for a prison said that tattooed guards provided “something to talk about”, and allowed guards to form a connection with prisoners.


Additionally, tattoo stigma appears to be fading. The research suggests Intolerance against those with tattoos is most common in the older generations, and with tattoos increasing amongst younger people, they are likely to be further accepted in the future.


"Tattooed applicants can take comfort in the fact that the stigma associated with body art appears to be on the wane and that, as a corollary, there will likely be an increase in the number of potentially sympathetic tattooed hiring managers,” Timming said.


22 September 2013