What do employers think of tattoos- The internet lied to you!

What Do Employers Think of Tattoos? The Internet Lied to You!

I was going to write a great article about my thoughts and opinions on tattoos in the workplace.

You know. Me. If they made a movie about my life it would be called The Girl With the Food Tattoo.

Here’s the gist of what I was planning on writing:

In my humble, unbiased opinion, and in my extensive experience of the working world (kidding) you can have tattoos and a job too.

But then something happened.

I researched.

And I realized… the internet has no idea what impact tattoos have in the workplace.

3 Resources the Entire Internet Is Using to Determine Whether or Not Tattoos are Harmful for Your Career

Formally dressed tattooed man

Career Builders Study on Reasons Hiring Managers Don’t Promote

It all started with two articles from Forbes, an internet authority on businessy stuff. At first in 2011 they were like nah, not worth it, you won’t get a job (or a promotion). Then, two years later they began to rethink things.

The funny thing is, they each backed their opposing arguments with the exact same research study by CareerBuilders from 2011.

What the Study Explores

This study by Career Builders surveyed over 2,500 hiring managers, asking them why they might be less likely to extend a promotion to someone.

The top three answers selected were:

  • Piercings (37%)
  • Bad breath (34%)
  • Visible tattoos (31%)

Understanding the Value of This Study

Now in general I’m not a huge fan of non-academic studies, nor am I a fan of surveying in general. However, when done correctly they can give us some broad insight into social trends. This survey by career builder  gives us some insight into whether or not hiring managers see tattoos as a reason not to promote.

However I have two main issues with this study, or more specifically with the use of this study as a resource:

  • It gives no indication of the overall hireability or ability to maintain employment of “tattooed people”. What are the chances a tattooed candidates will be seen as less qualified or discriminated against?
  • The study was conducted in 2011 and is being cited as if it were fresh, revolutionary data (the Petoskey News cited it in an article from just a few months ago)

A Pew Research Report on Millennial Social Trends from 2010

In my examination of a couple dozen articles on the topic, the second most common resource I have seen cited is an old Pew Research report from 2010, again, cited just last August by Petoskey News as well as in publications as big as SF Gate. If you take a look at Chapter 7 (page 64 of the report) there are some awesome statistics and visual representations of data.

What the Study Explores

So you don’t have to click through and try to find the spot I’m talking about here are a few stats that this study covers:

  • 38% of Millennials have tattoos compared to 32% of Gen X-ers
  • Half of these Millennials have 2-5 tattoos, and 18% have six or more
  • Millennials who have not attended college are more likely to have a tattoo than those who have attended some college

Wow! Great numbers.

Understanding the Value of This Study

This Pew report gives some great insights into the social values of Millennials, however like the former study it is basically ancient.

I’m kidding.

But not really. Consider the Millennial generation.

The Pew report defines this generation as people born in 1981-present.

That means that while this study was being conducted (assuming the same number of babies were born every year), 62% of the generation was not yet old enough to legally get a tattoo without parental consent, whereas only 38% was old enough.

It also means that today, assuming the definition of “Millennial” is the same, the population group is now 20% larger, 51% of the generation are not old to get a tattoo while 49% are.

It would be great to have a similar study conducted again capturing new information, and more narrowly defining what our understanding of “Millennial” is today.

Skinfo Tattoos in the Workplace Infographic

Another commonly cited statistical resource cited by an article (republished on Yahoo News) from Business Insider, Cheat Sheet, and others is…

…drumroll please…

An infographic created by a skincare boutique.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a phenomenal piece of content, and they deserve every share and every link they have received for it. However I find it interesting that it is being used as the foundation for several articles.

Understanding the Value of This Study

While this infographic is great for what it is, I have three main issues with it and the way people are using it:

  • It is not a study. In the journalistic accounts shared it is being presented almost as though it is first-hand research, not third-hand research (it cites articles which got data from actual studies)
  • There are dozens of statistics and a handful of resources, but there’s no way to tell what data comes from what resource
  • None of the resources listed are actual research studies – in fact, this infographic cites one of the Forbes articles as well as the SF Gate article mentioned before, which cite the Career Builder and Pew report respectively, leading users down a rabbit hole of mediocre and outdated information.

Are Those Really the Only Resources People Are Using?

Not exactly. I would be lying if I said that these 3 resources are the absolute only things that people are using, but they do seem to be the most frequently cited resources out of the 20 or so articles I looked at.

Other resources used include:

  • Quotes from managers at specific companies
  • Summaries of different company policies
  • Opinions and personal experiences of the authors

The Problem with Relying on these Studies

By Pew’s ancient estimate, 38% of my generation has tattoos. In a more recent survey from 2014 and 2015, Pew found that the Millennial workforce is now 53.5 million large – and growing.

By these numbers, tattoos in the workplace potentially affect over 203 million people in the United States, and there is no valid, reliable, easy to understand, and readily available information on the internet discussing it.

In Part 2 of this series I will dig up, analyze, and explore current research on tattoos in the workplace.

Edit: Part 2 is live!



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