HR · 30 August 2017

Tattoos in the workplace: The UK professions carrying body art taboos

A beautiful woman of mixed ethnicity sits at her desk in the office of her new online business startup. She smiles with confidence, comfortable with her work setting and appearance, visible tattoos on her arms and neck. Clean modern industrial work place environment with bright large windows.
Almost a third of young adults in Britain have a tattoo – a significant part of the labour market

A small majority of employers believe tattoos in the workplace have a negative impact on a working environment, new research has found, but with more young UK professionals than ever sporting body ink, could it be time to reassess our attitudes?

The findings, gathered by commercial property agent Savoy Stewart, revealed which industries the public find tattoos most uncomfortable, and in which they were more relaxed about visible body art.

For small business owners, overlooking the three in ten workers aged between 25 to 39 years old carrying tattoos in Britain could significantly narrow the recruitment pool and risk missing out on promising talent.

The study revealed which industries had the most tattooed workers.

Percentage of tattooed workers by profession

  • Agricultre: 22 per cent
  • Hospitality, tourism: 20 per cent
  • Arts and culture: 16 per cent
  • Retail: 14 per cent
  • Finance and banking 13 per cent
  • Healthcare and medical technology 13 per cent
  • Professional Services: 13 per cent
  • Education and family services: 12 per cent
  • Manufacturing: 9 per cent
  • Energy, design and construction: 9 per cent
  • Information technology: 9 per cent
  • Government: 8 per cent

The uncovering of negative attitudes towards tattoos in the workplace also raised a gender question. Male employers were more likely than female counterparts to discriminate against tattooed candidates, while female job seekers, more likely to be tattooed themselves, could be more likely to face a negative bias.

The Police Federation is one organisation leading modernisation. It recently ran a campaign for greater acceptance of tattoos in the workplace, and has since announced new best practice guidelines that seek to “provide officers and staff with clear direction on their appearance, so that they present a professional image while also being allowed some self-expression.”

Before we reveal which industries carried the greatest tattoo taboos, it’s worth considering how negative perceptions might be formed. The answer could be in subconscious readings of character. Characteristics most commonly associated with those who have tattoos included “rebellious”, “less intelligent” and “unhealthy”.

The following table from Savoy Stewart indicates public attitudes towards tattooed workers by industry

Profession Percentage comfortable Percentage uncomfortable
Athlete 88 per cent 12 per cent
Chef 81 per cent 19 per cent
Police officer 73 per cent 27 per cent
IT technician 72 per cent 28 per cent
Estate agent 69 per cent 31 per cent
Banker 63 per cent 37 per cent
Doctor 59 per cent 41 per cent
Judge 59 per cent 41 per cent
Nurse 57 per cent 43 per cent
Lawyer 57 per cent 43 per cent
Primary school teacher 49 per cent 51 per cent
Political figure 44 per cent 56 per cent
Air hostess 42 per cent 58 per cent

 

Responding to the findings, Hayley Smith, director of Boxed Out PR, drew on her own experiences to explain how a progressive approach can be taken towards tattoos in the workplace.

“I’m very liberal in the workplace, and all of my clients know I have tattoos. I thoroughly believe that as long as the tattoos aren’t offensive, then it shouldn’t matter. It’s the 21st century, people have tattoos, and piercings, and coloured hair. This shouldn’t be a judgement on your abilities and skills.

Explaining the benefits of tolerance for employers, Smith added: “Companies need to accept that tattoos are part of our culture, and they’re missing out on some of the best talent because of stigma and views.”

Gossip, rumours and cliques: UK employees reveal the root of office conflicts

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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