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Why corporations like UPS, Disney are allowing staff to point out tattoos

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Research is not exact, but recent polling shows that as many as half of Americans under the age of 40 have a tattoo, and that has implications for the job market.

Hinterhaus Productions | Stone | Getty Images

The growing battle to draw and retain staff has led employers to regulate longstanding workplace and hiring policies, from embracing hybrid and distant work to eliminating college degree requirements. A less-covered policy also changing: visible display of tattoos on staff.

Firms including Disney, UPS and Virgin Atlantic have relaxed their dress and elegance codes to permit employees to point out their tattoos within the workplace. Most of the moves have come over the past two years because the tight labor market that preceded Covid became much more intensely competitive in the course of the pandemic.

When longtime Home Depot CFO Carol Tomé was named CEO of UPS in June 2020, a lot of her first efforts to shake up the package delivery giant centered around increasing the job satisfaction of the corporate’s greater than 534,000 staff globally. Just a few of those initiatives centered on the corporate’s dress and elegance restrictions.

“We didn’t allow facial hair; we didn’t allow natural hair. So, should you’re African American and also you desired to have an afro or twist or braid, that wasn’t permitted. Our tattoo policy was more restrictive than the U.S. Army,” Tomé told CNBC last yr. 

UPS, well-known for its regimented brown uniform and driver dress code, acknowledged that it needed to make changes that “would create a more modern workplace for our employees that enables them to bring their authentic selves to work,” said Christopher Bartlett, UPS vp of individuals and culture.

Initially, UPS checked out its hair- and beard-related policies, which previously barred men from having hair that prolonged below the collar or beards. The adjusted policy, rolled out in November 2020, now permits beards and mustaches “worn in a businesslike manner,” in addition to several “natural hairstyles.” The policy, nonetheless, says employees are expected to take care of a neat and clean appearance “appropriate for his or her job and workplace,” and that hair or beard length cannot be a security concern.

Shifting views on tattoos at work

Bartlett said after that policy was well received, UPS began changes to its tattoo policy. Previously, the corporate barred employees from showing any visible tattoos — staff with tattoos needed to cover them with long sleeves or pants, or skin-colored coverings.

After a series of culture surveys, discussions with employees and other research, UPS settled on a latest policy announced in April 2021 that will allow employees to point out their tattoos provided they do not contain any offensive words or images. Staff are also not allowed to have tattoos on their hands, head, neck or face.

“Tattoos matter to people, and while there was a time where people can have gotten a tattoo on a whim, more often now a tattoo really matters to someone; it’s a part of who they’re,” Bartlett said. “We wanted people to feel like they might bring themselves to work not only of their current job but as they considered their whole profession.”

Disney‘s parks division underwent an identical shift in April 2021, updating its dress and elegance code to permit staff to point out their tattoos, which it said was a part of a wider effort to make its employees and guests feel more welcome at its theme parks.

The policy change “provides greater flexibility with respect to forms of private expression surrounding gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume decisions; and allowing appropriate visible tattoos,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney parks, experiences and products, wrote in a blog post on Disney’s website.

“We’re updating them to not only remain relevant in today’s workplace, but in addition enable our solid members to higher express their cultures and individuality at work,” D’Amaro wrote.

In keeping with the Disney solid member handbook, visible tattoos which might be no larger than an prolonged hand are permitted aside from any on the face, head, or neck. For larger tattoos on the arm or leg, employees can wear matching fabric tattoo sleeves. Any tattoos that depict nudity, offensive or inappropriate language, or violate any company policies are also not permitted.

Disney didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Virgin Atlantic, the British airline owned by Richard Branson, removed its ban on visible tattoos for uniformed employees in May. Estelle Hollingsworth, chief people officer at Virgin Atlantic, said in an emailed statement, “Many individuals use tattoos to specific their unique identities and our customer-facing and uniformed colleagues mustn’t be excluded from doing so in the event that they select.”

The U.S. Army has taken similar steps, rolling out an updated directive in June further expanding its tattoo allowance, including tattoos on hands and the back of the neck. The Army previously relaxed its restrictions that limited the variety of tattoos that recruits and soldiers could have on their legs and arms in 2015.

“We at all times review policy to maintain the Army as an open choice to as many individuals as possible who wish to serve,” Maj. Gen. Doug Stitt, Director of Military Personnel Management, told the Army’s news service. “This directive is smart for currently serving Soldiers and allows a greater variety of talented individuals the chance to serve now.”

In keeping with the USA Army Training and Doctrine Command, 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds have at the very least a number of tattoos. 

Customers more accepting of tattooed staff

Enrica Ruggs, an associate professor on the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business Department of Management and Leadership, said that there have been long-standing negative stigmas towards tattoos that harkened back to biker culture and a way that rebellious people were those that got tattoos. That carried over into corporate culture, where hiring managers would stereotype applicants with visible tattoos, or where employers would worry that employing someone with tattoos would turn off customers.

Nonetheless, Ruggs said recent research found that almost all tattoos now reflect a way of belonging – for instance, in-memorial images, callouts to their culture or occupation, or a tattoo that matches one on a loved one.

Ruggs ran an experiment measuring customer response to staff wearing temporary tattoos. While some customers still held negative stereotypes about tattoos, the tattooed employees had just as many sales because the untattooed ones. Negative stereotypes also didn’t negatively affect customer perception of the organization. In actual fact, tattooed employees in white-color or creative jobs were checked out more favorably and competent than non-tattooed employees by customers, Ruggs’ research showed.

“A part of the argument has at all times been that it will hurt the organization, and that might actually change a consumer’s purchasing behavior,” Ruggs said. “But when the cornerstone of your small business is service, that is not changing, but allowing and relaxing a few of these policies may help with worker morale and may expand who you may hire, which may help to enhance worker performance. If employees are pleased they usually feel satisfied with their worker, they’re prone to even be very productive.”

While there aren’t exact statistics regarding tattoos, a January Rasmussen Reports survey found that almost half of Americans under 40 have tattoos. Across all ages, 33% of Americans have tattoos, the survey found.

The Recent York City Council currently has a bill that will look to curb discrimination against individuals with tattoos, including within the workplace. The bill would add tattoos to the categories in town’s administrative code which might be already prohibited from discrimination resembling race or sexual orientation. While it could still allow employers to mandate that employees cover tattoos, it could require them to prove that not showing a tattoo is a “bona fide occupational qualification.”

Bartlett said that after UPS modified its policy, he noticed that several employees posted their UPS-themed tattoos on the corporate’s internal message board.

“When someone puts a UPS logo on them after a 25-year driving profession here, that matters, and it shows that the corporate matters to them,” he said. “This is not a P&L play here, but that is about inclusion and bringing your authentic self to work.”

 Join us October 25 – 26, 2022 for the CNBC Work Summit — Dislocation, Negotiation, and Determination: The World of Work Right Now. Visit CNBC Events to register.

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