Tattoos - An Employment Buzzkill?

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

By Sui Ling and Xiao Xingchen


To tattoo or not to tattoo? That is the question. With more millennials in the workforce, will the tattoos they sport be allowed in the workplace and become the new norm? Sui Ling and Xiao Xingchen, staff writers of Quattro Communications, set out to find out, fired up by their shared quest for greater acceptance of tattoos by bosses.

Tattoo; mark (a part of the body) with an indelible design by inserting pigment into punctures in the skin. So, a work of art. Wear as a sleeve on the arm or have it partially hidden, it is an expression of individuality.

But, is this statement of individuality widely accepted as a fashion statement? Or is it frowned upon? Can it be an employment buzzkill?

Growing up, we’ve always been told not to get a tattoo as it will drive a wedge between us and our future. We all know right who dishes out such advice (rather commands). This is triggered by the general perception that the tattooed are gangsters or those who did time in prison for crimes.

Today, most -- but not yet every Tom, Dick and Mary -- have a tattoo. They are either hidden, partially seen and sexily taunting or loudly shown as a sleeve tattoo. So, times have changed? People have grown ballsy to not care about what others think?

Curious about this (and also because we ourselves want to get more tattoos), we asked people in different professions what they think and whether it affects one's chance of being employed or impacts one’s career advancement.

“No way. Period!” was the initial reaction of a shipping industry veteran, Soon Tiong Wei, who was stern as he considers tattoos as tainting the near perfect creation of the body.

The 60-year-old was dead-set of not hiring anyone sporting a tattoo even though he softened later to say small tattoos would be ok with him.

PR practitioner You Choong Tatt, is more open. “As long as the tattoo isn’t visible, the chances of employment won’t be affected,” he said. To him, first impressions count. A tattoo that is visible may give the wrong impression to clients or associates who are more traditional.

However, to try and keep up with the ever-changing generation, he does accept slightly or partially visible tattoos that are pleasant looking.

While baby boomer bosses tend to be stricter in terms of acceptance, millennials would be expected to be more open. Tattoos, to them, would not be an important consideration in hiring. That may not be generally true. It does seem it differs from individual to individual.

Nuur Fahda from the retail industry said that she would consider the tattoo a criteria to employ or not to employ if it could be seen.


"Given a choice to choose between two equally qualified candidates, I would go for the non-tattoo one. Personally, the tattoo culture should not be welcomed in the workplace," added Nuur Fahda. She is more in favour of subtle ones and not those that cover the entire arm and large parts of the body, no matter how artistic they are.

Muntasir, who works in a bank, agrees with Nuur Fahda. When interviewing two applicants; the one with the tattoo may be a better candidate. He, however, would opt for the clean one.

Dr Asha Renuga, a medical doctor, will not check if a job applicant has a tattoo. Considering herself an old fashioned person, she doesn’t welcome tattoos in the workplace.

Tattoos may not be factor in an artsy type of work establishment, but in her case, Dr Asha will make it clear to all of her future employees that their tattoos need to be covered at work, especially during meetings with clients. Her word of advice: BE DISCREET.


Talking to people for this article made us realise that tattoos are still not fully accepted among employers. Hidden tattoos are obviously no problem. Visible tattoos on arms, shoulders etc are fine. Facial, neck, even hand tattoos are less acceptable. A minimalist butterfly or flower tattoo will be more acceptable than offensive words or images.

We get that. Even in our less conservative PR and communications company, we can’t push the boundaries with our baby boomer bosses. We still have to hide our tattoos in the office (Shh, don’t tell our bosses OK?). Getting more tattoos – sparked off by the recent Tattoo Exhibition -- has also to be on hold. It can only be sooner if we become bosses. No matter what, we still live in hope!


*All names have been changed to protect respondents’ identities*

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