Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bergeron's Broomstick
PR and HR specialists agree that in the workplace it is better to overdress than underdress. The way you present yourself shows others both how you see yourself and how you approach your job and it's a proven fact that the more put together you are, the more chances you have to be heard, respected and hired. 
But clothes are a very simple issue, as anyone can slip into a nice suit. But what about the things that are not that easy to change? Tattoos, for example. Yes, let's talk about tattoos.
A long time ago, tattoos were the mark of foul-mouthed sailors, cons, criminals and social outcasts. But I think I can safely say that is no longer the case. Sure, foul-mouthed sailors, cons, criminals and social outcasts still get inked, but nowadays people rarely frown upon it. Personally, I frown at tramp stamps and douchebags getting generic tribal things on their arms because it's cool, but there is an abundance of amazing tattoo artists and equally amazing tattoos, each with its own story, ranging from intricate memorials to loved ones to abstract promises for the future. 

But the important question is, will employers frown over them and assume that you're not appropriate for their company or even not good at all? I have no idea. I don't have tattoos. Then again I don't have a job either. So I asked some people with with both jobs and tattoos what they about the issue. 
For example, 27 year old Finnish blogger Karoliina Kalma notes the importance of the work environment: 
I live in the biggest city in Finland. It's a large city, possibly the highest percent of students of all the large cities. This means there's a lot of alternative looking people, which is bound to affect the way people react. I've studied traditional arts and than moved on to graphic design and media studies, where looking different was practically the norm. I've been working in the games industry now for around five years in various positions. I've switched companies three times.
So far I haven't encountered any mistreatment and I've done well in my jobs and gotten along well with colleagues. Many of them are "traditional nerds", people with not so good social skills but high intelligence and very specialized fields of expertise. The only problems I have encountered are with male colleague who assume I'm "easy" based om the way I look.
Victorian Kitty, the always-elegant voice of Sophistique Noir, stresses the importance of professionalism.
I think the ability to get away with displaying tattoos in a corporate environment has much to do with the professionalism, maturity and respect shown by the tattoo bearer. It is important to excel at your job, maintain a positive attitude, be friendly, follow the rules and always do your best. Bosses are often more tolerant of minor displays of non-conformity when they know you are a stellar employee. In my experience, the single largest factor in "getting away with" being a bit of a non-conformist in the workplace has always been that I am the best at what I do, and I always have the best attitude.
Using discretion on when you show your tattoos will earn you greater respect from your superiors, and respect usually equates to you being able to get away with more. There is a time and a place for letting your tattoos be exposed at the office, but never during interviews, important meetings, meeting with conservative clients and such. Quantity and quality are usually also critical factors - we can often get away with one or two small, tasteful pieces while full sleeves or questionable subject matter might not be acceptable. Placement also plays a huge role, in my experience. A tattoo on the ankle, forearm or bicep is fairly commonplace in today's world, but on the neck, chest or face would almost certainly be an issue at work. You have to balance the element of non-conformity with what is socially acceptable.
Line of work makes a considerable difference, as well. I went into the field of Graphic Design not only because it was my passion, but it suited my personality type. Most businesses, even more conservative corporations, expect their designers to reflect an artsy and unique perspective to some degree. Some even value that (I was once told in an interview that they appreciated that I "looked like an artist"). People in more creative lines of work can often get away with more aesthetic individuality, including a visible tattoo here and there.
Location can also have a lot to do with it. I live and work near Los Angeles, where people are more liberated aesthetically. When I went to college and first began my career in Kansas, far more attention was paid to any aspect of my appearance that seemed out of the ordinary. Overall, tattoos are more commonplace and acceptable in popular culture these days than they were even 10 years ago, and therefore seem to be considered less shocking or distracting in the workplace than in times past. However, if you live in a very conservative part of the county/world, you might find your employer less understanding than in more progressive areas such as major cities.
The bottom line is to never, ever argue if you are asked not to show your tattoos at work, as long as that policy is upheld consistently throughout the organization. The workplace dress code is a condition of your employment and should not be challenged. Everyone must concede to these rules; even the conformists who would rather be wearing jeans and t-shirts over business attire. However, if others in the organization are allowed to show tattoos and you are asked not to, I think it would be acceptable to respectfully inquire why you are treated differently. Your boss might have a very good reason that you never considered (such as, if you have to deal with the public and your tattooed co-worker is totally behind-the-scenes) but either way you must be prepared to accept the boss's final decision.

Well, it all seems valid enough, but does it work for Romania? Well... I think not. If you are going for an interview that involves either young people with vision and /or a skill test or overalls and a shovel maybe, but looking at our Prime Minister repeatedly giving everyone the middle finger regardless of the perfectly valid accusations of plagiarism coming from all sides of the academic world, I guess never mind the twenty-first century, we never made it in the the twentieth to begin with. I know there are traditionalists everywhere, but witches are real in Romania. You have a tattoo? Good for you. Now hide it. Under the rug with it! Well, sleeve, and we should count ourselves lucky because our great equalizer is the suit. If we were sharing the same world with Bergeron, we'd be wearing weights to stunt us, masks to cover our beauty and evil noise headphones to stop us from being smarter than everybody else. Smile, dammit.  

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