The Relationship between Tattoos and Employee Workplace Deviance

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Michael J. Tews of Pennsylvania State University and Kathryn Stafford of Ohio State University. They recently published an article in the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research entitled “The Relationship Between Tattoos and Employee Workplace Deviance,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the motivations and innovations of this research.]

Whereas tattoos were once characterized as a deviant art form, tattoos are now in the mainstream in today’s society. Despite some employers being more open to tattoos on employees, research generally finds that individuals adorned with tattoos are perceived as less suitable for employment than those without. The motivation for the present study was to explore whether there is any justification for such an anti-tattoo bias, or if such bias is purely discriminatory. In other words, do employees with tattoos behave differently from those without them? Could their behavior harm their employer or their fellow workers? Given the unprecedented number of tattoos on individuals today, examining this issue was timely and warranted.

This research examined the relationship between tattoos and organizational and interpersonal deviance, with a sample of 518 employees working in the hospitality industry. Examples of organizational deviance include coming to work late without permission and using illegal drugs on the job; while examples of interpersonal deviance include making fun of someone and embarrassing someone at work. Although previous research signals that tattoos are a marker for deviant behavior in general, the relationship between tattoos and deviance has not been examined in the context of the workplace.

Whether or not an employee was merely tattooed did not factor into deviant behavior, but number and type of tattoo did. As the number of tattoos increased, so did organizational deviance. In addition, being adorned with ‘darker’ tattoos was related to both types of deviance, although the effects were not large. Darker tattoos encompass gothic images, symbols reflecting death or violence, and science fiction, among others. These effects held even after controlling for employee personality characteristics.

The primary practical implication is that there may be merit in managers attending to tattoos and restricting them in the workplace. At the same time, they should not overestimate their relevance, as the relationship between tattoos and deviance was not large. Those in the position of hiring should be prepared to articulate the potential benefits and drawbacks of considering tattoo status in hiring decisions. On one hand, hiring managers may wish to not discriminate against those with tattoos due to tight labor markets and perceived unfairness by applicants. While on the other hand, hiring managers may wish to consider tattoos when making employment policies and decisions, given the potential for employee behavior that runs counter to employer interests.

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One thought on “The Relationship between Tattoos and Employee Workplace Deviance

  1. Although I haven’t read the details of the research but I understand that the 518 or so who where the subject of the research were those in the hospitality industry which is not necessarily a glamorous job .
    Had the research gone into those in the banking industry , home office employees , foreign office , top managerial jobs , rarely you will find any of them decorating his/her neck and arms with tattoos as the like of David Beckham (sir David Beckham).
    There is evidence though not documented that big organisation tend not look favourably to those tattooed candedates.

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