Should you hide your tattoos at work?
As human beings, we all have a story to tell.
Good times, bad times.
Experiences, things, characters (both fictional and non) that are important and have impacted upon us are all integral parts of what makes us who we are as both professionals and human beings.
There are those who use words, stories, to speak of their experiences and some who use pictures, symbols and art.
So why is it that those who use pictures and art to define or explain their story are judged far more harshly that those who don’t?
Are we so challenged as a black and white society that a little colour causes us to question our worth so significantly that we must remove this evil threat of having tattoos at work?
The history of tattoos at work
In the Stone Age, tattoos started as searing burns carved deep into a warriors’ skin, later complemented with blood and dirt for colouring effects.
The markings symbolised how much pain a warrior could handle whilst still being able to hunt, gather and defend their tribe.
They showed stories of victory, triumph over adversity and sadness.
Despite what most people who have joined an online dating site in the past five years will tell you, we have thankfully bypassed the Stone Age (could you imagine the Legal and WHS implications of somebody turning up to your place of business ripping your shirt off and jamming a boiling hot rock into your arm? Yikes!) and have sterile environments with safe equipment to imprint out life lessons and experiences upon our bodies.
But, I digress.
I understand the need to protect the ‘corporate image’ as tattoos may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
With that in mind, as a tattooed professional, I take offence to the stereotypes against tattooed professionals as degenerates, uncontrollable and those of questionable moral character.
For the purpose of this article, I am going to place myself under scrutiny.
Here are the three tattoos I have so far:
What do you see? Come on, don’t be shy, what did you really see?
You could be forgiven for assuming the picture on the left was some sort of horrid mask with misshapen eyes, the middle a triangle with a circle and a vertical line in it and the right some sort of a knife piercing a heart with some tape around it.
The truth behind my tattoos at work
What if I told you that the mask was from a TV series called “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”, a childhood television program that I could escape into, to escape a torridly abusive childhood?
A show that taught a scared child that conquering your fears, bravery, intellect and a great group of real friends can make all the difference…
From a fantasy-themed franchise called Harry Potter, which has now taught three generations of children that “happiness can be found even in the darkest of places, when one only remembers to turn on the light”.
And the dagger piercing the heart?
The scroll wrapped around the iconography reads “death before dishonour” symbolising my brief time as a defence recruiter and my undying respect and appreciation for the men and women who have, do, and will serve and protect this great country.
Oh, and did I mention my 140+ IQ, three Diplomas and four certificates spanning a multitude of industries ranging from Warehousing to Media to Human Resources?
But you only saw the ink!
The danger of stereotyping
The problem with stereotyping anything that is held dear by a person be it tattoos, religion, or anything else that is open and sentimental, is that stereotypes snowball.
Again, putting myself under scrutiny, when I’m not working I wear jeans or shorts and a polo shirt or tank top.
I am fat, bald, tattooed, pale white and have a naturally serious look about me.
People tend to think I’m a security bouncer or some kind of skinhead when I’m actually a soft-hearted geek who only resorts to aggressive acts in the defence of himself and others in need.
They drew a cognitive path: tattoos à big guy à big, bald tattooed guy à skinhead.
So easy to make the wrong translation.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some exceptions!
If a candidate turns up to an interview with a Swastika tattooed on one side of their head and F.T.P (f*ck the police) tattooed on the other, they may not necessarily be the ideal customer service candidate in a multinational call centre environment…. but I think you get the idea.
Some of the smartest and most recognisable people alive have tattoos – John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of JFK had a tattoo of his own initials on his hand, Lee Byung-chu, founder of Samsung, has a mysterious “power symbol” tattoo that nobody is allowed to know the location of, even Bill Gates has a Zune tattoo that he only shares with Melinda 😉 (all true by the way!).
Perhaps even if you have a conservative dress code, you should consider hiring a tattooed professional – you never know where your businesses next source of brilliance could come from….
What’s your experience?
Has it impacted job opportunities or have you been forced to cover up?