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The Property Partner

Insights on training, coaching, and new ideas in multifamily.

Tattoo Stigma in Multifamily

Tattoo Stigma in Multifamily

We’ve all heard the banter between folks when discussing their tattoos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or said, “I was young and dumb” in reference to tattoos. I sometimes feel this way about mine, as they’re quite visible on my hands and arms. I had them done during my stint as a world traveler, not thinking I’d find myself in the corporate world, wearing long sleeves and rings to cover my teenage rebellion’s lasting mistakes. I’ve been lucky enough to develop business relationships without my tattoos acting as a barrier, however this isn’t the case for some. We all know that millennials are changing the game by promoting a more casual approach to work and with their take-over of nearly 40% of the job force, I foresee big changes in corporate standards.

Considering that 40% of millennials carry body art, it’s hard to imagine that this 40% would also carry with them an employment disadvantage, right? A friend of mine thinks differently. She argues that visible tattoos are unprofessional and that their stigma will last much longer than my hopeful fantasy suggests. Recently, we toured a downtown Las Vegas community, where our leasing consultant was heavily tattooed. She was dressed casually and had facial piercings. I connected with her and admired her artwork and style, but my friend resented her choice of dress and visible tattoos and our consultant had “lost all credibility” as far as she was concerned. This incident showed the difference in our perception of what’s acceptable in the workplace.

College graduates entering the workforce believe that tattoos and other body modifications will not prevent them from securing employment. In fact, according to a study performed by the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development, 80% of young professionals do not think that piercings and tattoos reduce the chance of getting jobs. This shows that the younger workforce is majorly in favor of wiping away the tattoo stigma. They believe that there are more important indicators of a qualified applicant. In a scientific study performed by the International Journal of Hospitality Management, participants concluded that grooming and business attire were more important factors in hiring decisions than tattoos and piercings. This begs the question: were any of these participants hiring managers? If so, would that have tipped the scales of the study?

In a research article written by Andrew R. Timming of the University of St. Andrews, 25 participants were interviewed on the barriers of tattoos in the workplace. This pool consisted of both hiring managers and heavily-tattooed professionals. The study revealed a predominately negative effect on hiring decisions, with these considerations being based on a large range of variables including: tattoo placement, genre of tattoo, employee’s proximity to customers, and the industry in which these professionals worked. It found that tattoo prejudice in the workplace was largely driven by hiring managers’ vision of customer expectations.

 I’ve always had the “hire the best person for the job, even if that person is purple with spikes” mentality. A company I worked with hired a woman with a face tattoo and let me tell you, she was just as productive as her non-tattooed counterparts. However, her position was not a front-facing one. With companies like Google and Zappos choosing to lax their codes of appearance, we tend to think that this shift may be acceptable across the board. But Zappos programmers aren’t greeting potential clients and selling the value of their luxury apartment homes either. In a study published in the Journal of Retail and Consumer Studies, consumers were shown to have negative reactions to body art and showed a preference for non-tattooed front-line staff. This shows that even though the younger workforce views tattoos as non-qualifying criteria for hiring decisions, hiring managers must still bend to the whim of consumers, and with most consumers preferring non-modified staff members, there may be a halt in the changing stigma we may have expected in the coming years.

Is it possible to find a happy medium? Can we maintain a code of appearance that is expressive, not offensive, to all consumers? It’s hard to say. It seems there’s too big of a gap in thought between people. Millennials connect with others like them and don’t recognize many long-time stigmas, however millennials aren’t the only ones renting apartments.

What are your thoughts on tattoos in multifamily? Have you ever had an experience where you were put-off by a tattooed staff member? Have you personally experienced the negative effects of tattoo stigma?


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Author: Taylor Duffy, Director of Sales, The Property Partner

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  • Truthfully, what turns me off in the photo is the wife-beater tank the guy's wearing. I saw that first, then the tattoos.

  • That's a great point, Mindy! It goes to show that proper attire may be more influential than body modifications.

  • Frankly, this is a lot like a uniform rule – how casual is the community wanting to be? I think employers are making a mistake if they assume the work quality based on tattoos, because I think tattoos are often a mark of self expression, not a resume, but I also understand if a community wants to maintain some type of outward appearance towards prospects.

  • Agreed. Appearance and work quality are not synonymous, but company image plays a big role in this issue. As a front-facing employee, you are a representation of your company, but where do we draw the line? It's not an easy answer!

  • Exactly. For example, this guy (https://assets.rebelcircus.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/worst-face-tattoos-4A.jpg) might be a great worker, and might be upset because his tattoos do not impact his ability to do his job. But I think most would agree that putting him in a customer facing position in a senior living community may not work. So there is definitely a range, and it is sometimes hard to find that sweet spot.

  • Let me point out though that the guy in the photo above, when dressed in a suit, or even a long sleeve collared shirt, does not expose his tattoos. Most leasing professionals I know are female, so the likelihood someone would notice their tattoos is much greater. Are there biases based on gender when it comes to tattoos?

  • If we didn't hire people with tattoos we probably wouldn't hire at all in some markets. And if they don't have tattoos when we hire them, many of them add them later. The study Dawn cites tattoo placement and genre as factors. The tougher thing in the future will be policies on what is appropriate body art - the swastika? The snake eating a rodent? Good topic, Dawn.

  • Thank you, Mary! I feel that this topic can be expanded quite a bit. As tattoos become more prominent in our culture, how do we measure their effect on our careers? I may have to dig a bit deeper on this!

  • Chelsea Spivey

    I'm heavily tattooed and have no trouble leasing apartments or doing my job. My tattoo's have been beneficial with breaking the ice.

  • That's fantastic to hear, Chelsea! Oftentimes tattoos can be a great icebreaker and conversation starter with your prospects.

  • Brianna

    I have tattoos on my arms and hands as well as facial piercings, in no way shape or form does it keep me from doing my job and doing it well.

  • Sarah

    I am a Property Manager with tattoos on my forearms, upper arm, & chest (that one is covered). I have never had a negative reaction to them and actually have found the opposite. They have been an ice breaker and good conversations have come from them.

  • Love it! I agree that tattoos can be wonderful icebreakers. I'm glad you've had such positive experiences, Sarah.

  • Chelsea, Brianna, Sarah, I hope this won't offend. I am one who starts a conversation in the Starbucks line asking people about their tattoos. Some great stories...But I can also tell you the first time I met one of our maintenance team members with tatt sleeves, up his neck, crazy beard, and earring bolt things I was a little put off. He's one of the best maintenance people I've ever worked with, but it was scary. When 3 of my team members arrived at a professional business conference with red, irritated matching tattoos on their hands I had unspoken thoughts. And all 3 still work for me years later. There would not be policies about tattoos still floating around, and this blog would have disappeared on the net, if everyone was comfortable with tattoos. I agree they don't keep you from doing your job, but as stated in the blog, 40% of the 40% millennial workforce are tattoo owners, which means 60% are not. And I would guess the percentages are lower the older you go. Just like I don't know everyone's reaction to my "faux blonde" hair, you don't know how some people perceive your tattoos, or whether it impacts their initial reaction or your getting to work for them. I think Dawn is making a big point that things are changing, and also asking a great question of the impact on our different properties, different markets, different demographics.

  • Mary, you make a very strong point here. Perception is everything, and most of the time, we have no idea what the other person's true perception of us is. As you mentioned: initially, your perception of your maintenance team member may have been negative, but after getting to know him, that stigma clearly wore off. Does time and relationship to your colleague or office team member change the original effect of their tattoos on your perception of them? In my experience, I'd say yes!

  • Hello-
    While everyone brings a great point to the image; let me say "Yes" the appearance matters greatly however; if the first words out of the persons mouth is professional the outward appearance takes second place or at least it should.

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