Changing Attitudes to Workplace Ink

Changing Attitudes to Workplace Ink

LiQ_Mag_Mar_2015_coverThis article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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By Sheila Quinn

Vignettes of a frosty Canadian morning: Jim kisses his girlfriend Gen and heads off to work on foot. He works in information technology at McGill University in Montréal. Gen leaves for the office as well, where she creates images for e-learning material.

Near the banks of Brome Lake, Jeanne sees her children off on the school bus. In Halifax, Elinor climbs aboard the city bus to Keshen Goodman Public Library. Courtney prepares for her day of caring for residents at a seniors’ home.

In Kincardine, Ontario, Paula starts her day early at her one-woman eco-raw body care company, now in her fifteenth year of business.

This collection of Canadians has one distinct thing in common. They all have “ink.”

FROM COUNTERCULTURE TO COMMONPLACE

JEANNE: “I have 18 tattoos, and my kids don’t really notice them. I’m not sure if they even noticed that I have them and most moms don’t.” Regarding the workplace: “I love that I couldn’t get a job except in a tattoo shop or a nightclub when I started 17 years ago. Or even rent an apartment for that matter. Now you can get a job almost anywhere. When I see an employee at Tim Hortons with a neck tattoo I still can’t believe it.”

Jeff Pauw, former teacher and director of human resources for the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB), shared his thoughts about the evolution of tattoos in the classroom. “When I began teaching [in the mid-1980’s], you were expected to dress up for work. Shirt and tie, dress pants, and the women dressed nicely as well. There was an expectation that you presented yourself a certain way. Today it is not uncommon to see teachers in class in a pair of Levis [jeans].”

Regarding the rules: “There are no policies [within the ETSB] preventing people from getting tattoos – freedom of expression still exists. We can’t say we’re not hiring someone because of their tattoos, but we can ask employees to present themselves in appropriate ways.” Pauw chuckled that tattoo content has also evolved; most tattoos are not as menacing as they used to be. “We have no visible problem with it,” Pauw says. “Tattoos are much more accepted in our society. In most cases our employees are very conscious of being a professional in a working environment.”
Pauw’s position reflects what more and more employers are saying. Today, many employers have modified their approach to tattoos in the workplace after recognizing that strict anti-tattoo policies could lead to the loss of good employees. The rise of tattoos, piercings, and unusual hairstyles has required many employers to adapt their dress codes. Companies who want the familiarity of a franchise and a product front and centre are more likely to pursue strict policies —in some cases for reasons of safety or hygiene but mostly in order to maintain the company’s image. If employers do not handle tattoo-related conflicts with employees well, employees can file discrimination claims against the company.LiQ_Mag_Sub_Banner

Jim Johnson, 48, works in IT at McGill University.
JIM: “I don’t know if McGill even has a tattoo policy… well, not that I’ve seen and I’ve been here for 10 years. The department I work in has plenty of contact with the public and it’s never been an issue. My tattoos on my arms are always visible.”

Elinor Crosby, 42, is one of two adult services librarians at Keshen Goodman Public Library, part of the Halifax Public Libraries system, in charge of information systems and emerging technologies.
ELINOR: “The only job I’ve ever had to drastically change my appearance for was unequivocally the worst job I’ve ever had. That was in my early 20s and I learned a lot from that experience. It was before I had so many tattoos and large gauge piercings, but this place made me dye my hair blond and hide my septum piercing. I was later let go suddenly because the owner didn’t like me and I apparently broke some rule that I had no idea was even in place. It was such an awful job. I hated it.”

“From that point forward I made a point of going to any job interview dressed professionally and letting my freak flag fly. I told prospective employers that as an adult, this was how I was most comfortable with my own appearance, but that in terms of dress code for customer-facing positions, I was willing to comply. Any place that wouldn’t hire me because of the way that I look is a place I don’t want to work.”

“Now, as a librarian, at the library I work at, in the system it’s part of, I’m allowed to look how I please as long as I’m professional and approachable. My tattoos are not an issue, nor are my piercings or coloured hair. I’m never worried about what my manager will say when I show up with pink hair because she hired me when I had blue hair.”

A GENERATIONAL SHIFT?

Washington-based Pew Research Center’s 2010 report on tattoos revealed that 38 per cent of millennials (18-29 -year-olds) reported having at least one tattoo, whereas 32 per cent of generation-X’ers, and just 15 per cent of baby boomers had the same response. Older generations have typically been portrayed as more closed-minded about these trends, but the research reveals a different reality.
Courtney, 22, works at a residence for the elderly.

COURTNEY: “I have two lovebirds on my right forearm.” One of Courtney’s four tattoos, the lovebirds are based on an engraving on her grandparents’ tombstone. “The seniors I work with love my tattoo.”

Paula, 47, is self-employed and started getting her tattoos at age 39.
“I have a lot of tattoos. My boys were fully supportive and thought they were cool. My eldest son got his first tattoo at age 16 in our living room.” Paula’s brother-in-law is Jean-René Allard, a tattoo artist at Tattoo Précision in Boisbriand, Québec. “Long gone are the days when people said tattoos were for sailors and jailbirds. Tattoos are art, I’m an artist. I will always LOVE my tattoos. It’s done for the love of things that make me smile each day. If someone loves them and comments, great. If not, that’s OK too.”

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About Author

Sheila Quinn

Sheila Quinn (known as media mum Sheila Q.) is a radio show host, columnist, music-infused, mother of two/stepmother of two, half of DHTV’s Les Curieux media team, den mother, who works for Champlain Regional College in Lennoxville. Sheila Q.’s bucket list tends to be self-sustaining. She has lots of plans.

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