MONEY Workplace

Why Tattoos Are Still Taboo at the Office

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70% of tattooed millennials say they hide their ink jobs from the boss.

40% of millennials have at least one tattoo, according to Pew Research Center. But that doesn’t mean the gen X-ers and baby boomers who often do the hiring like what they see.

So while more millennials are inking up, 70% say they make sure their tattoos can be hidden from the eyes of the boss.

And, as millennials continue to become a larger part of the workforce, reservations about putting their body art on display are likely to grow.

A recent University of Tampa study found that 86% of students with visible tattoos surveyed think they will have a harder time finding a job after graduation. When deciding where to put a tattoo, 89% said they will consider how it will impact their job options.

“If you walk into a boardroom and you have that baby girl tattoo on your neck, you may not get that job you want,” said Univerity of Tampa assistant professor Kristen Foltz, who conducted the research.

Foltz, a millennial herself, has a number of tattoos. But she has always been careful to get them in areas she can cover.

Katie Murtagh, a first-year law student at the Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina, has a couple of tattoos and may get more. The images are personal icons, including a four-leaf clover to represent her Irish heritage. But she has made sure to keep them hidden so they would not hurt her future as a lawyer.

“I know a lot of people who have tattoos, including two of my close friends, have them very visible, on their arms, neck and ankle, but they don’t think their profession is going to care,” Murtagh said. “They are not looking for white-collar jobs.”

But her other friends “definitely think about where to put” a tattoo, she noted. “It is something that you are very conscious of as a 23-year-old,” added Murtagh. “The fact is that they are still very taboo in the business world, but we are trying to change that.”

The mark of a generation may be losing some of its pop culture cool among millennial stars. One Direction’s Harry Styles, 21, has been widely quoted as having regret over some of his 40-plus tattoos.

And reality television star Kelly Osbourne has talked about getting hers removed. She says she doesn’t want to be defined by them. Even singer Britney Spears, 33, has nixed some of her ink – getting rid of a Hebrew tattoo on the back of her neck.

Pricey Removal

Of course, the increase in tattoos and the subsequent second thoughts is great for the tattoo removal industry.

Tattoo removal surged by almost 46% among millennials in just the last couple of years, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The average cost of a tattoo’s removal is $464, according to the trade group. That is a lot more than the going rate of about $100 for a basic tattoo.

“There is no question that the millennial generation has been more interested in tattoos earlier in life than any generation before them. With those decisions, often come regrets later in life,” says Dr. James Grotting, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “We fully anticipate a growing interest in removal of tattoos.”

Tattoo removal is a big business: Spending in the United States is expected to hit more than $83 million by 2018, according to IBISWorld.

Of course, the taboo of tattoos in the office many not be permanent, especially since millennials are moving up in the workplace. As more of them do the hiring, that bias against tattoos on the job could start to fade.

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