Tattoos might still be taboo in Richmond offices

It used to be that you were considered different and rebellious (and maybe even dangerous) if you had a tattoo. You likely rode a Harley or in a drunken stupor let some friend with a needle leave an “I ? Mom” or an anchor on your bicep. Now, they’re as trendy as big hair in the ‘80s. And they’ve all but invaded the workplace.

Richmond seems to be a heavily tattooed area. Perhaps, spurred by the arts community and VCU, Richmond seems to be more inked up then most cities. A Google search for “Tattoo shops in Richmond” turns up an astounding 123 results. And this year will mark the 16th annual Richmond Tattoo Arts Festival , a celebration of all things body art.
But that doesn’t mean a cute butterfly or tribal band is accepted in the stuffier world of cubicles and staff meetings. We surveyed 20 business professionals in Richmond to figure out what people think about tattoos. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed don’t care about tattoos on a personal level. But 60% feel that tattoos can have a negative effect on the workplace.

First, we asked for personal opinions on tattoos. Out of 20 respondents, only three said that they like body art. Six said that they dislike it. Eleven said that they don’t care either way. So the majority of Richmonders surveyed neither like nor dislike tattoos on a personal level.

Then we asked how they felt about tattoos in the workplace. Twelve people thought that tattoos have a negative effect on the workplace. Six said that body art doesn’t affect the workplace. Only two thought that tattoos could have a positive effect on the workplace.

That means that the majority of respondents, 60%, think tattoos negatively affect businesses. This is despite the fact that, on a personal level, the majority don’t really care about tattoos.

We also asked if these professionals would ever reconsider hiring or fire somebody because they have too many tattoos. Here, the responses were split right down the middle; 10 said that they would, 10 said that they wouldn’t.

Obviously, a large part of a business’s success relates to their image (although we still can’t figure out why people wear Bluetooths). Certain industries and jobs may benefit from having tattoos (tattoo artists and bartenders), but generally speaking, professionals err on the side of “If you can’t hide them, we have a problem.”

And maybe that’s true. Tattoos can be distracting, and they don’t conform to the typical business look. But they’re becoming more and more prevalent.  As one respondent said, “Virtually everyone I know under 40 has one or more (tattoos).”

Here’s a sampling of what Richmonders had to say:

“I personally have no issue, but, when you are in a professional environment, they are not necessarily accepted freely, and you need to be cognizant of your audience and their potential reaction,” said Connie Neilson, a senior vice president at Thalhimer Commercial Real Estate brokerage.

“I don’t mind them as long as they are not distracting, i.e. covering an entire extremity, visible on a person’s neck, etc…,” said Linda McElroy, a public relations manager for the Richmond Metropolitan Authority.

“Some that I have seen are very distracting (devils and such), others aren’t (flowers),” said Anne Woodward, the business development coordinator for the Town of Ashland.

“In my humble opinion, tattoos on one’s head, neck and hands (those that cannot be concealed with clothing) can potentially create opportunities for discrimination. I know several executives that would not hire someone with visible tattoos, as they feel it could compromise the company’s image or limit selling opportunities,” said Kevin Goolsby, vice president of sales and marketing for the Richmond Kickers

“I think if someone has neck, face or a sleeve of tattoos, it kind of makes people question their judgment. It sort of sets you up for limited job opportunities, and why would you do that?” said Jeff Sadler, program manager for the Virginia Enterprise Initiative.

“I would question my attorney or accountant if he or she could not present themselves properly.  Just as a mohawk is not appropriate in many professional jobs nor are ripped jeans and spiky leather belts, neither are many tattoos,” said Sadler

“I just hired a new booker; he has full color sleeves and he is an awesome new employee.  I’m in a youth-oriented business, and he brings that youthful, free spirit energy to the table,” said Stacie Vanchieri, director of talent agency Modelogic, Inc.

“The effect of tattoos depends on a lot on the industry. In an industry like banking, insurance, and real estate, your employees have a lot of contact with the consumer. I don’t want our consumers to react negatively to one of my sales reps because he has a tattoo, is wearing a shirt that is not ironed, or can’t speak English,” said Jefferey Krug, a professor at VCU.

“The ‘status quo’ may be quite important in stabilizing morale in the workplace or generating positive feelings among consumers — that is why firms have dress codes and corporate cultures. It has to do with creating the proper work environment that generates productivity and creates good customer response to your product or service,” said Krug.

Alec Depcrynski is a BizSense reporter. He is does not have a tattoo. Instead he prefers his ink to be on his reporters notebook. Please send him story tips at [email protected]

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