How the Tattoo Taboo is On the Decline in the American Workplace

Once upon a time, having just one visible tattoo could make or break your chances at getting hired by a respectable company. Millions of people would refrain from getting tattoos or even have their existing tattoos removed due to the social stigma of showing one’s ink in the workplace.

As the Millennial generation — those born in the years between the early 1980s and the early 2000s — has gradually come of age, however, these old stigmas are disappearing.

According to USA Today, 73% of ink enthusiasts get their first tattoo between the ages of 18 and 20; these days, 40% of Millennials have one or more tattoos.

Even more telling? A recent survey found that a mere 31% of human resource managers said that visible tattoos could harm one’s chances at getting hired.

“For centuries, most businesses have vigorously defended their traditional right to set and enforce dress and appearance standards for employees,” Joseph O’Grady, professor of business at Burlington, VT’s Champlain College, said. “But the 21st century has brought lots of changes in social norms.”

One in five adults in the U.S. has at least one tattoo. Even Jill Abramson, journalist and former New York Times executive editor, proudly displays her body art — in 2012, Forbes named Abramson the fifth most powerful woman. It’s clear that expressing your individuality and building a prestigious career are no longer mutually exclusive.

However, universal workplace acceptance is still a fairly far-off concept — some employers still have rules against visible tattoos, requiring employees to conceal them while on the job, and other professions frown upon employee tattoos without having explicit rules against them. Some businesses, fearing the branding effects associated with employing people with tattoos, are still very much concerned with hiring people whose body art is visible.

With tattoos becoming ever more popular, however, it likely won’t be long before having a visible tattoo no longer means you’re not a capable worker.

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