Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Inked and Pierced at the Front Desk

Working at an information desk is difficult, sometimes. From the strategically placed brochures, to the arrangement of the binders in a cabinet, everything must be pristine, and that's usually where all the "hard" work is. But what about the employees? Are they expected to be just as immaculate as the desk itself? Are piercings or tattoos even allowed?
Sarah Davidson is an information desk attendant on the University of Utah campus. Throughout her employment she has had a total of five piercings, all of which have been (or are) through her ears, and one tattoo.
Regarding her tattoo, Sarah made sure the tattoo fell inside uniform guidelines. She asked her manager, Marci, about getting a tattoo before she decided to get one, "I actually asked Marci first before getting a tattoo if that would be ok. Marci was totally supportive of my tattoo idea and was excited to see it after I got it," she explained.
Yet despite having her manager's approval, Sarah wanted to ensure it would not affect her current employment or future employment endeavors in any way. "The placement of my tattoo was chosen specifically for the fact that it is hidden when my hair is down," Sarah explained, "I made the choice to keep it hidden in order to keep this job and so that future employers would not judge me or have issues hiring me because of a visible tattoo."
When asked about her piercings Sarah simply replied, "I haven't really gotten any thus far that I think would interfere with work." Historically, Sarah has had a few ear piercings including two holes in each of her ear lobes (one set of which she still has and is gauged) and an industrial rod through her ear cartilage. As for future piercings? She told me she was considering getting a "Monroe piercing" which is an upper lip piercing that gives the impression of a beauty mark.
When asked what her manager would say Sarah straightforwardly said,"I'm not really worried about Marci freaking out about it because she has allowed other facial piercings."
So what about for future jobs? What was her view on having her piercings affect her odds with an employer after college? "When it comes to finding a job after this one, I will probably take out the piercing[s]," she told me.
Her final thought on her piercings and her future career was simple, "no piercings, no matter how utterly sexy, are worth losing out on a job or career opportunity."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tattoos and the workforce.

“If you are unsure about your future, I would suggest not getting tattoos or extreme piercings that are visible. It can drastically pigeonhole you. And I don’t think anyone under 30 years old should get a neck tattoo.” This statement was made by a 21 year old Michael Barry. Mike is a Christian male and sees himself as a conservative Democrat. He has numerous tattoos over his body, including a large one in the left side/front of his neck, a piece on the back of his neck, and tattoos behind both ears which were the main focus of my questions.

Michael is currently employed at Hickman Electrical Inc. as an apprentice electrician. The environment he works in varies from job to job, ranging from processing plants to Wal-Mart. He works with other electricians usually on a daily basis, and occasionally with engineers and/or clients. As far as his current job goes, he cannot recollect specific positive or negative situations revolving around his tattoos. “The job we are on right now, the engineers call me “the kid with the ears and face tattoos” and they call everyone else by their names,” said Mike. I asked him if his visible tattoos would affect his line of work to which he responded, “It will definitely hinder my advancement within the company. It keeps me from getting farther ahead, dealing with office work and clients. It keeps me in the field, I don’t get sent out on job walks- contractors don’t want to send someone with 1” gauged ears and neck tattoos to try to get a job.”

Recently, Mike had his earlobes sewn. (As you may have seen on Fox 13 news Salt Lake City) He says this decision was a combination of a few things; it was a great opportunity, he sort of grew out of that stage in his life and was no longer wearing jewelry in the stretched holes, and it was a decision to better his professional future. “Overall, for now I am happy but I am a fairly logical person and half of me has always kind of had some regret and worry about my neck tattoo. I usually tell people not to get them,” Mike mentioned. He stated that he and a lot of other people don’t know where their life will take them in 10 years, so decisions he made at 18 may or may not negatively affect his life in the future.

I wanted to hear more specifically about how he felt his tattoos had influenced his working career thus far, and how they would continue to influence it down the road. “When I left retail and tried to get a job, regardless of my resume or experience I wasn’t the top candidate. I may be slightly intimidating- scare the customers off. In an ideal world people wouldn’t pass judgments based on appearances but it happens, and it will happen forever.” Unfortunately, I have to agree with him tenfold. Mike continued, “I tried to get a job at so many floral shops around d the valley, but moms don’t want to come in and buy a flower arrangement from someone who looks like a criminal.” This statement caught my attention, and I wanted him to expound on it. “If you look into the individuals in the prison system that have been there for however many years, most of them are tattooed. If you go to Sub for Santa charities, or church, people usually have none. People with tattoos have value systems that may or may not be typical or upstanding. They have a tendency to be seen as ‘wild’, and aren’t usually the ones who attend community social gatherings of a respectable nature. They are usually foul mouthed- I probably have the foulest mouth of anyone I know,” Mike explained. Based on his well thought out opinions, I’d say he’s probably right.

Though Mike knows his tattoos have affected his career opportunities and will do so in the future, he is still interested in more visible tattoos. He mentioned wanting his hands tattooed and even wants to get the back of his head tattooed. He feels unbalanced with one side of his neck done, and noted that he “may be using it as a justification but, he already has one side so why not?” He believes that tattooed hands are almost worse than neck tattoos, so he remains unsure if he will get the top of his hands done or not. “Tattoos are like any other artwork, it’s all about location-it makes it interesting.”

Appearance in Healthcare

This last week, I was reading through my company newsletter and it happened to have a reminder of the "Professional Image Standards." Most focused on clothing and hygiene policies with a few lines devoted to tattoos and piercings. It states as follows:

"Employees may be asked to cover tattoos at work if they are deemed to be unprofessional or distracting... Employees should select and wear jewelry that does not create a safety hazard or interfere with one’s work. Visible body piercing is not permitted except for piercing of the ears. Ear jewelry should not be excessive (maximum of two conservative earrings per ear)."

I work for Intermountain Healthcare at their flagship facility. As one of the largest private employers in the state, many Utahns fall under the restrictions of these "Image Standards." Most of the standards seem to limit the amount of self expression an employee can portray at work. They tell you what to wear, the limits on hairstyle (although I did get away with a mohawk one day), what you can smell like, or even down to stickers that you can't put on your nametag. To Intermountain, self expression is way down the list of important concerns. What you must consider is the environment. A hospital's primary concern is patient comfort and safety. From a comfort standpoint, they don't want your hair falling into a patient's wounds, or your overpowering cologne causing an allergic reaction. For safety concerns, they want your name badge easily readable and identifiable. All their policies have valid reasons and concerns, even those concerning tattoos and piercings. I think in a professional hospital environment, it comes down to image. Medical professionals need to be trusted and respected from the moment of their first impression. There is little time to build a trusting relationship in life-and-death situations. They must "look" professional from the beginning.

I have begun to take notice of tattoos and piercings at work. Rarely do you ever see a nurse or caregivers with visible tattoos, and never have I notice doctor's tattoos. Excessive piercings are even less common, only those with little public contact seem to have a few more than allowed by the "Image Standards." I have a coworker who has a full arm tattoo. It's done well and has nothing offensive about it, but I have been promoted to a position with more patient interaction while he has not. I'm not saying that his tattoo has limited his opportunities in our department, but I think it could have an impact if he decided to pursue a medical career.

In some fields of employment, image is extremely important. I personally want to be a professional someday (whether medical or elsewhere) and that has impacted my decisions on tattoos and piercings. I don't want to permanently limit myself with something as silly as self expression. I change my mind so often that I want to be able to leave my past behind and not have to explain what's inked into my skin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Supervisor Material

Once known as the Delta Center, Energy Solutions Arena is known to all Jazz basketball fans. Whether your catching a basketball game, a concert, or Disney on Ice it seems that the Arena is always prepared thanks to its many employees.

The other day I spoke with Stephen Stahl the warehouse lead in the Arena. When discussing tattoos and piercings he informed me that a year ago the warehouse supervisor, Zach, had several piercings approximately twelve. Because Zach had no visible tattoos, when I asked Stephen what the company's stance on the piercings were he stated that, "They just cant be outrageous. Tattoos and piercings are allowed in our department as long as they are decent looking." This intrigued me a little, how and who deems something "decent looking." Apparently HR is responsible for that decision. To which I believe is unjust, "decent looking" to one person is completely different than "decent looking" to another.

When discussing the case of peoples perceptions of the employees I asked if Stephen believes they effect the work environment at all. His response was, "Some people show fascination because of them (tattoos/ piercings) and others look down upon them...I've heard people say things." As a final question I simply asked what he thought of them. "I think tats can be really cool, but they are better when there is a story with it. If not then it seems pointless to me."

In all it seems as if EnergySolutions Arena is accepting of body art but only if it is rarely seen to the public eye. There are a few things here that bother me and one is the fact that some HR person is in charge of if things are "decent looking" all I can say is that there better be a handbook with pictures and everything of what is deemed "decent." That also brings to mind the question though, of where to draw the line. This is a question that all companies face and will continue to face with our ever expanding body art and the fact that it is becoming more acceptable.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food and Tattoos.

In most lines of work appearance is key. Having tattoos or piercings definitely can affect what jobs people can have. The environment of a workspace determines the dress codes of employees and workers, and as stated by one of my group members, “… it depends on the atmosphere in which you work and company you work for.” This applies to the food industry as well, where depending on the kind of setting, visibility of tattoos can either be acceptable or not.

Currently, I work in a small local bakery in Salt Lake City called the House of Bread. Dianne Swift is the Assistant Baker there and she has six tattoos, one on her right and left wrist, one on each side of her rib cage, one on the back of her neck, and a large tattoo covering her shoulder and upper arm. Dianne is 28 years old from Arcadia, California, and she has been living in Salt Lake City since March 2009. She got her first tattoo when she was 23 years old, and since then she has not experienced any major problems with her tattoos working in the food industry. A few of Dianne’s tattoos are visible, and I asked her how customers react, and if they ever had a problem, and she said, “No…most people are pretty nice about them and will ask ‘Oh what is that about’ and are really polite, plus we are in Sugarhouse so a lot of people are more liberal… there are a few conservative people that come in and give the evil glare, but for the most part people are intrigued and ask about them.” I asked if people had implied things about her because of her tattoos, and she stated “Yeah, people have assumed that I either had a messed up childhood, or that I’m a lesbian because of the equal sign on my wrist and the two women on my arm” Dress is casual for employees at the bakery, it just has to be modest and suitable for baking.

Before Dianne became a baker, she had worked as a waitress at restaurants such as California Pizza Kitchen, Iggys’, and Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill. There they had more restrictions when it came to the dress code and tattoos. I asked her about her previous work experience as a waitress and she said, “They would tell us we couldn’t show any tattoos… we all wore collar and button down shirts and for the most part you couldn’t see my tattoos except the one on my wrists, which were pretty small. Those I would cover up either with band aides, makeup, or bracelets. I was the number one server pretty much, so managers would let me get away with them. People loved me, I had like the highest sales out of everyone…so managers looked the other way.” She mentioned that if she had worked at any other job, “such as a receptionist, or anything like that, people probably wouldn’t care… but thankfully or hopefully I wouldn’t work someplace where people would care... but if I stay in this business, like being a chef, cooking, and baking… people are covered in tattoos, so its not a problem.” Dianne said that she wouldn’t dream of exposing her tattoos if she were in a formal setting. However, since baking is less formal, the dress is much more relaxed even compared to higher end food service jobs.

Dianne’s tattoos are close to her, and represent and reflect on her personal beliefs, points of view, and experiences. She hopes to get more in the future, but for the mean time is content. Dianne’s goal is to purchase the bakery from the owner in the near future, and will either keep it as the House of Bread or open up her own bakery. Dianne’s perspective on her profession and the ability to have visible tattoos is that “I’ve really lucked out.” Regulations and Policies about tattoos and piercings in food service are very lenient, and focus primarily on proper hygiene and cleanliness. Majority of establishment require modest dress, yet depending on the setting and image of the business, it can vary.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tattoos in Retail.

In the previous post, my group member said appearance is everything- which I agree with to a certain extent. However, when it comes to retail, I think it depends on the atmosphere in which you work and company you work for.

AJ Welsh is a 27 year old male from Boise, Idaho. He has been living and working in Utah for about 3 years. He has ears gauged to a size 4, his nose pierced, and tattoos covering both his arms, both hands, stomach, chest, and back. He got his first tattoo when he was 21 years old, and has been consistently adding more work to his body in the nearly 7 years since. At the time, he was also working retail, which he seems to genuinely enjoy. He described his job as, "Selling shoes. It's a fun work environment and a fun job. My customers are usually 15-25 years old." He works as a manager of Journeys shoes store at The Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For AJ, his tattoos and piercings have not affected the jobs he has or hasn't been offered. "I've had the same job for six years," he stated. I asked if there was a career outside of retail that he would be interested in pursuing and his response was, "maybe doing tattoos. I guess it wouldn't be too hard to get a job as a server or a bartender with my tattoos either. The only jobs I feel like I couldn't get with my tattoos are jobs I don't want, like working at a desk." That being said, I went on to ask AJ if he were a business owner, if he would allow his employees to have tattoos or piercings that showed at work. His response? "As long as they are in good taste." Being that this is quite open to interpretation I asked him to clarify what he meant by this exactly. "If they had a tattoo of a naked girl on their arm they would have to cover it up." Fair enough.

I wanted to see how people, mainly his customers, react to his authoritative position in regards to his tattoos and piercings. "Most people think they are 'cool' because tattoos are becoming more widely accepted. The only negative interaction I receive from having tattoos is bad looks sometimes," AJ said. "They probably assume I'm a certain type of person-a bad person- because of these but then they realize I'm a normal human being and that I'm really nice, and none of them say anything out of line to me," he continued. I wondered if these odd looks occured more in Salt Lake City than they do elsewhere, even in the same industry. AJ felt that working in SLC with tattoos and piercings is different because people seem to look down on it more here, because a lot of people are so conservative and see tattoos and/or piercings as distasteful.

I went on to ask what interested him in piercings and tattoos, and he said, "as an artist maybe it's just the artistic side of tattoos that I like. And the piercings, just for fun-to be spontaneous." AJ is quite content with all of the ink on his skin, and feels that he will never regret any of his tattoos. He feels as though they haven't yet negatively affected his life, and doesn't see why they would in the future. "Sometimes people ask, 'What're you going to do when you get old?' and I guess I don't really know. But I don't think my tattoos are going to stop me from doing it."

In some instances tattoos and piercings may inhibit you from being hired somewhere. These days its becoming more and more common to have tattoos and piercings, and alot of employers are becoming more lenient with their policies about them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Appearance is everything

Retail and customer service depend heavily on one thing: appearance.
Employers strive to make good, professional, first impressions. From the tidily kept shelves of a retail store to the shiny countertops at an information desk, appearance is everything, and employees are no exception.
So what? What does having a tattoo or being pierced and expressing individuality have to do with anything? Well, when appearance is important, employers can easily control how their employees look by enforcing a dress code.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC], employers may choose to adopt a dress code as seen fit. What the dress code entails is entirely up to the employer and the intended appearance of both the employees and the workplace that the employer wishes to convey to the public. Employers may choose to adopt a policy that dictates anything from the type of pants the employee can wear to the color of socks worn, and can ban anything including (but clearly not limited to) tattoos.
The problem with this then becomes the argument that tattoos are not always for personal pleasure or reasons, but tattoos could be an important part of a religious belief, and banning such tattoos would qualify, according to the EEOC, as discrimination. As stated by the EEOC Prohibited Practices dress code policy, employers can enforce their dress codes even if it is incompatible with "some workers' ethnic beliefs or practices" but must amend their dress code policy if it conflicts with an employee's religious beliefs.
Despite being able to have tattoos for religious purposes, some workforces are prohibiting tattoos. For example the Marine Corps, and some police forces, are beginning to more strictly enforce and regulate tattoo bans.
Unfortunately it does not look like many policies will be changing regarding tattoos in the workplace and it looks like the best way to avoid repercussions for a tattoo is to simply cover it up.