Think before you ink, because the perception of New Jersey residents with tattoos varies very much by age.
And such perceptions can matter in the workplace, said David Redlawsk, a Rutgers professor and director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
Eighteen- to 29-year-olds rarely think negatively of a person with body art, and nearly 40 percent of this age group has a tattoo, according to a recent Rutgers poll of 916 registered voters. But 30 percent of those older than 65 said they thought worse of people with tattoos, and only 5 percent of this demographic has one.
“Much of the time the people making the decisions are older and are more likely to think worse of someone with a tattoo and far less likely to have a tattoo,” Redlawsk said. “I think you could draw a reasonable conclusion that tattoos that are obviously visible are more likely to be something that a senior manager, a hiring manager, might react negatively toward.”
As tattoos become more mainstream, they are becoming more acceptable, but that varies by industry, said Lori Hourigan, regional vice president for Robert Half International, a global staffing firm in fields such as accounting, finance, legal and marketing.
“We have no dress code against it, but the bulk of the people I know who have them, you don’t see (the tattoo) every minute of every day — somewhere that if you wear a business suit, you’re not going to see a giant snake staring at you when you’re trying to have a conversation,” Hourigan said.
“If I had a kid who was 17, 18, I would say get one, but if you choose one day to become president, don’t get it in a place where it will be used in a campaign commercial against you,” she said.
Tattoo policies are often not spelled out and typically fall under personal appearance guidelines, she said.
Some companies have specific policies on tattoos, including Atlantic City’s Revel megaresort, which includes the subject in its appearance standards for employees.
Revel specifically allows visible tattoos as long as they are deemed “appropriate” and are no larger than 2 inches in diameter. Visible neck and hand tattoos can be 2 inches in length and 1 inch in diameter.
Kevin Spann, a 51-year-old program manager from Washington, D.C., was browsing tattoos Wednesday at the House of Ink in Atlantic City.
Spann got a Pegasus tattoo on his arm 20 years ago and initially covered it up at work. Now he has no qualms wearing short sleeves at the office.
“The perception has changed tremendously. Now they're acceptable," he said.
House of Ink owner George Patsaros, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township, offers customers advice when someone considers a tattoo in a highly visible place.
“We tell them to think about it. If they really insist on getting it there, we definitely give them some background — it will be hard to get a job with something on their hands or neck,” he said.
But the advice rarely changes anyone’s mind, he said.
“If they walk through the door, they know what they want,” he said. “But we do tell them.”
Patsaros said that with some of his clients, the placement of tattoos depends much on their occupation. Self-employed people or those in construction-related industries are more inclined to get tattoos on hands and necks than office workers.
Northfield resident George Bucci, a 45-year-old utility worker for South Jersey Gas, has three tattoos, on his arm, back and chest.
Bucci remembers his father's disapproval when he got his first tattoo — a shark on his back at age 19.
"I was thinking, what if my 17-year-old son asked me right now? I would say yes, but I would say make sure you know you're with this for the rest of your life."
Robin Alter, 19, of Absecon, who works at Playcade arcade in Atlantic City, does not have a tattoo but has friends who do.
"Will I judge someone else? No. But myself, I don't really agree with it, especially if it's visible,” she said.
John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-headquartered outplacement consulting firm, said there is a generational divide on perceptions of tattoos.
This can mean a delicate balance for some employers who don’t want to drive away good, young talent with a rigid policy, but also worry that visible tattoos may make customers uncomfortable, Challenger said.
“Many companies do have rules about covering up tattoos because their customers come from the whole gamut of people’s expectations in terms of what they feel, what they’re comfortable with,” he said.
Megan Murphy, owner of Eternal Etchings Body Art Studio in the Villas section of Lower Township, said tattoos have become more acceptable to a broader section of the public.
“When I first started tattooing close to 20 years ago, you could not work the counter at McDonald’s if you had lower arm tattoos. That has changed,” she said.
Murphy said a customer came in recently wanting a collar shape on her neck. After the two spoke, she decided to adjust the location to a spot easier to cover with clothing.
“I said going into a work force or going into formal wear — it’s going to be very limiting to what you can wear,” she said. “You’ve got to take these things into consideration, even though they are more acceptable.”
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