More people in their 20s and 30s are sporting tattoos. Inevitably, that also means more ink around the workplace, where social norms around body art are slowly starting to shift as the pandemic ushers in a more casual office setting.
About 60% of working Americans say that the definition of what’s considered “professional” has changed since the start of the pandemic, with the vast majority saying it’s changed for the better, according to research from LinkedIn that was shared with Bloomberg News. That’s especially true for younger generations. The study, based on a survey of about 2,000 workers, showed that Gen Z is least likely to believe in the “traditionally professional” look in the office, less than 40% of workers in the group think you need to maintain a “conservative” appearance that includes keeping tattoos covered.
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Those figures also jibe with an increase in the number of people that are inked up among younger generations. More than 40% of millennials have tattoos, according to an Ipsos poll published last year, compared with only 13% of baby boomers.
This more-relaxed attitude is reflected in recent research that suggests tattoos don’t make much of a difference in client relationships, one way or the other, at traditional white-collar firms. In retail, customers aren’t purchasing less when employees have tattoos, according to the article published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. For creative businesses, the study found ink may actually bring a competitive edge. All that means that managers with lingering reservations may want to reconsider.
“Previous research has shown that managers are hesitant to hire workers with tattoos because they think customers would be turned off and it’d be bad for the brand,” said Enrica Ruggs, one of the report’s authors and a business professor at the University of Houston. “We really didn’t see that.”
Elli Blonde, 27, started her career in finance in 2014 at a credit union with a very strict appearance policy. “They would ask for tattoos to be covered, even if it meant putting a Band-Aid over it,” she said.
Blonde now works with federal government agencies as a management consultant and feels much more comfortable showing her tattoos in client meetings. “They've seen the quality of the work that I bring to the table, and the tattoos didn't cloud their judgment,” she said of one of her current clients.
“They didn't dismiss me — that's huge,” she said.
Still, visible tattoos remain off-limits in some industries. Take it from Jessica Cadmus, a personal stylist for Wall Street financial executives, a group historically known for tailored suits and the buttoned-up look.
“I've worked with quite a large number of senior people at both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, women and men both, and not a single one of them has a tattoo,” said Cadmus, who’s been in the financial fashion business for 15 years. “You’d even think that some would have something hidden, maybe something small on their leg or on their back — not a single one,” she said. “And I can tell you that with certainty because most of these people I see in their underpants.”
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