The Millennial's Perception of Tattoos: Self Expression or Business Faux Pas?

By Foltz, Kristen A. | College Student Journal, December 2014 | Go to article overview

The Millennial's Perception of Tattoos: Self Expression or Business Faux Pas?


Foltz, Kristen A., College Student Journal


This article examines the perceptions and beliefs of Millennials regarding visible tattoos and the impact of tattoos on potential employment. Despite tattoos becoming more accepted and mainstream in society, studies show that individuals with visible tattoos are often hired at a lower rate than people without visible tattoos. A survey of current undergraduate students reveals that students today are well aware that having a tattoo may adversely impact their chances of being hired, but regardless of that knowledge almost half are still considering getting tattooed. The majority of students surveyed who currently have tattoos revealed that if they get another tattoo they will consider the location on the body with regard to any impact to employment. Thus, although students are aware that tattoos still serve as a faux pas in business, they will continue to express themselves through ink perhaps in a more concealing manner.

Introduction

Look around any classroom on a university campus and one will likely see exposed tattoos or body piercings. Conversely, look around any boardroom across the United States and barring a few exceptions you will not see any tattoos or visible body piercings. Although tattoos are becoming more widely accepted in society, in some arenas of the professional world tattoos are still frowned upon or deemed to be unprofessional. Students, both with tattoos and those without tattoos, tend to view tattoos as normal or "mainstream" and agree that tattoos are found on many people today (Manuel & Sheehan, 2007). Regardless of the growing acceptance and pronounced appearance of tattoos, it is still necessary to inquire if today's students are aware of the impact that their self-expression through ink has on their ability to secure employment after graduating from higher education.

It is not debatable that tattoos are present in American society and are likely here to stay. A 2010 research study conducted by the Pew Research Center on Millennials revealed that nearly four-in-ten had a tattoo (Taylor & Keeter, 2010). Moreover, 70% of those with tattoos had them in places not visible to the public located in places on the body hidden by clothing. In a survey of marketing students, it was revealed that two out of five students have a type of body art (Lipscomb, Jones, & Totten, 2008). Despite this evidence that students have tattoos, the purpose of this study is to assess whether they understand the possible ramifications of having them. This article does not seek to criticize or pass judgment on the current corporate culture in the United States, nor does it serve as a commentary on self-expression via body art, but rather seeks to explore the current mind-frame of college students when it comes to tattoos and securing future employment.

The author of this study is both an attorney and a professor of business communication

and speech. As an attorney, one finds himself or herself in a highly conservative profession where a person's overall appearance is sometimes just as powerful as the words he or she speaks. As a professor at a mid-sized liberal arts university, the author sees tattoos on students on a daily basis. It is noted that the legal profession and a collegiate atmosphere are two different universes; however, knowing how conservative some work fields are, this professor would like to know her audience better in hopes of helping them adjust expectations if need be. This study seeks better understanding on student perceptions of body art and may give professors and universities tools for communicating with tattooed individuals about how his or her tattoo may influence his or her employment in a conservative business environment.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to assist instructors, advisors, students, and perhaps business people when dialogues regarding post university employment begin. By understanding the current mindset and beliefs of students regarding their expectations of employment and overall chances of being hired, instructors may assist students in preparation of formal business presentations particularly by revealing the attitudes of the presenters versus the perception of a conservative business audience. …

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