Employee ink – is it time to update the company dress policy? | Sue-Ellen Watts | No Plan B
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Employee ink – is it time to update the company dress policy?

Recently returning from New York I unintentionally started a workplace discussion that has got us thinking about employee dress policies!  The conversation was ‘what do you do if one of your team come back from their holidays flaunting a rather obvious tattoo?

Well that team member was me, the Founder and CEO and whilst my team loved my new addition they didn’t waste any time making jokes about whether it aligned to our company dress policy!  Luckily for me, we have a policy of professionalism at all times without restricting self expression, but that’s not consistent across Australian businesses.

With 1 in 5 Australian’s sporting a tattoo these days, it’s not unlikely that you’ve either hired, interviewed or are currently working with someone that is inked up.

Looking back on presentation and grooming policies that we’ve written and implemented in the past, there are often restrictions imposed on displaying visible tattoos. But as our workforce demographic starts to shift, so does the idea of personal self-expression. We know that our millennials are more inclined to choose a more relaxed style of dress for work or perhaps one that better suits their uniqueness.

But it’s not just millennials getting tattoos and is no longer a youthful rebellion – over a third of Australian’s got the first tattoo after the age of 26 and another 20% were in their mid 30’s and above.

So what doesn’t this mean for employers? As with everything HR related, there are precedents and legislation that guides some dos and don’ts when it comes to enforcing your policies around tattoo visibility which employers should consider such as;

  • are you treating someone unfavourably because of their tattoos being linked to a certain religion, race or belief;
  • could the ink be considered offensive or obscene by a “reasonable” person;
  • the nature of the work the employee does (do they have direct contact with clients and customers?)

In this day and age, I think the question is less around prohibitive factors in asking employees to conceal tattoos and more about why does it even matter? How much focus should we really be placing on tattoos in the workplace?

As we talk more about diversity in the workplace, it is as much about personal expression as it is about gender, age and sexuality. Tattoos often tell an intriguing story and gives an insight into the intricacies of someone’s history – what an amazing way to connect with someone (whether this be your team or your customers!).

It’s necessary to have a balanced approach on the topic of tattoos in the workplace and make strong consideration about what you favour more – your overall corporate image or the quality of the employees you hire and retain based on their body art. Be careful not to miss out on top talent because you’re taking a conservative approach to you grooming and presentation policy!

Lucky for me I am free to share my new ink and as a result have engaged in many really interesting conversations with clients, colleagues and contacts.


This blog was co-written by Sue-Ellen Watts and Katie Hamilton and first appeared in SmartCompany on Friday 10th March.