Think before you ink

11 November 2014 - 02:00 By Nivashni Nair
TATTOO YOU: Dan Buchanan, a rep for an office automation company based in Johannesburg, poses at his place of work. His employers prefer him to wear a long-sleeved shirt when seeing clients
TATTOO YOU: Dan Buchanan, a rep for an office automation company based in Johannesburg, poses at his place of work. His employers prefer him to wear a long-sleeved shirt when seeing clients
Image: ALON SKUY

Are the bank tellers with the eyebrow and tongue piercings, the waitresses with flashing gold teeth or the tattooed state doctors unprofessional?

In an article published in Psychology Today, US psychologist and business administrator Steve Albrecht argues that companies are violating freedom of expression with policies on tattoos and piercings, claiming that they want their employees to appear professional.

"Doctors, teachers, lawyers, brain surgeons, astrophysicists, cops, fire-fighters and grandmothers have tattoos," Albrecht said.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a profession that doesn't have tattooed people. This is because body modifications are not limiting in any way, shape or form.

"At the heart of the idea of 'employee professionalism' is the desire of a business and its people to be perceived as trustworthy, hardworking, service-oriented, helpful and reassuring. To not allow tattoos or piercings is to assert that people with them are not any of those things. This is baseless, and millions of body-modifiers defy this at their jobs daily."

In South Africa, most companies do not have policies relating to body modification but recruitment experts warn that there are employers who may not hire a tattooed or pierced candidate.

There may not be policies because everyone is quite sensitive about discrimination.

Roxanne Dallas, managing director of recruiter Mass Staffing Projects, said this would differ from company to company but people stand the chance of not being hired because of the way they look.

She said most South African employees are "quite good" at covering up their tattoos for work.

Some US companies do not allow employees with tattoos on their arms to wear short-sleeve shirts.

Approached for his opinion on the topic, Quest Staffing Solutions executive KC Makhubele said there were three levels of employers in South Africa.

"We have the employer who is totally against tattoos, the one that does not care, and the middle-level employer who says you can have a tattoo as long as it does not interfere with your job.

"You need to be cognisant of the market in which you as an employee operate. If you think about it, tattoos in the creative field are accepted because of the environment," Makhubele said.

"But in certain boardrooms tattoos can become a wall in the way that you deal with your customers."

Professional tattoo artist Daryl Naidu said most of his clients - doctors, teachers, strippers, police officers and accountants - opt for hidden tattoos as they fear rejection in the workplace.

"As a professional tattoo artist with many tattoos I, too, do not have neck tattoos because there may come a day when I may enter a different industry."

Naidu said he always discusses these concerns with clients.

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