No Place for Body Art in Business

March 29, 2012 5:02 pm

David Bruce's 80 tattoos created pressure in his employment

It appeared in the tabloids today that David Bruce, a 22-year-old salesman, was moved from being a shop floor assistant to a stock room worker because of his 80 tattoos, which meant both arms, hands and his neck were covered in body art.

He felt his position at Next was being put under pressure and for the last year of three that he worked there he claimed it ‘wasn’t a nice atmosphere’ and that companies such as Next should ‘move out of the 70s and 80s mindset and not be so rigid’ as his employers claimed that his tattoos were ‘too overpowering’. The company requested that he cover up his visible tattoos with concealer, which Bruce says cost him £40 per pot.

To be honest, I would have to side with Next on this issue. As a company, it’s in their interest to ensure impeccable customer service and that their customers feel comfortable with their staff. Next isn’t a company whose retail audience are primarily teenagers who might be impressed by tattoos covering the body, but mostly stock clothes for an older generation of women, men and young children who may be less impressed and may even be intimidated by someone who is covered head to toe in ink. No matter how good the employee is, if the first thing the customer sees is unnerving body art, they may automatically feel uneasy or nervous.

Although Bruce claims that Next didn’t state in their contract that tattoos weren’t permitted, it’s no secret in the working world that having visible tattoos will hinder your chances immensely of being hired for certain positions in the workplace. It’s not just tattoos that are the issue; piercings are also not permitted in many areas of work as companies often prefer their staff to have a clean-cut, pure, stay-out-of-the-way-unless-the-customers-need-something aura as it leaves no margin for complaint and puts the emphasis on the importance of the customer as opposed to the employee as an individual – for which there is apparently no room at work.

Although I understand Next’s side of the argument, I do still appear to have two minds about this situation. The opinion at the forefront of my mind is that Bruce brought this upon himself; he must have at least thought about the impact that his £4000 worth of tattoos would have on his employment, because, as I mentioned before, it’s no secret that tattoos are not all that popular with employers. Although it may be unfair and perhaps unjustly stigmatised, if you want a job, you have to adhere to the requests of your boss; something which is outstanding in every aspect of work.

On the other hand, as a young person, I do feel for Bruce as he is, of course, entitled to do what he wants as an individual. He claims his tattoos are not offensive to look at and that he worries that other young people will be put in the same position as him because of the choices they make about their body art, which is probably true. It’s tough to assert your individuality in such a way when the constraints of employment are so strict and well-known.

Becks' success may have made his tattoos more acceptable than 22 year old Bruce's

Statistics have shown that in 2010, 29% of 16-44 year olds had at least one tattoo and in 2011, an estimated 20 million people in the UK had at least one. They may have been popularised by celebrities such as David Beckham who has around 13 tattoos etched onto various parts of his body, including the names of his children. This begs the question, with successful people such as Becks and Rihanna and even Samantha Cameron sporting various pieces of body art, why the stigmatisation? Surely they aren’t put in the same category as big, burly biker men who are so well known for their tattoos, so why are the teenagers of today put in that category? Why is it tattoos render them scary?

As far as I can see, Becks, Rihanna and Sam Cam can all get away with their tattoos because they are already successful. They don’t need to worry about anybody disapproving; they already have both the employment and the financial success that they require. Young people covered in tattoos, on the other hand, seem to be stopping themselves from gaining financial success because of their tattoos. Assertion of individuality is apparently hindering financial gain and employability.

So, to conclude, although it is difficult to accept for the young person, it is easy to understand and agree with an employer that visible tattoos, sleeves and art all the way up the neck is definitely not the way to go if you want to be successful when working with people in many industries. Don’t get the tattoos if you don’t want the stigmatisation and the pressure from your employer. Simple.

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