Americans spend $1.65 billion on tattoos annually, and 23 percent of people have at least one tattoo. Although perceptions about getting inked are changing, some local employers still lean toward traditional appearances.
"I guess norms are changing and will change in the future, but we think that, in the business world, it is not very professional," President of Chattanooga's First Tennessee Bank Keith Sanford said via email. "We strive for a 'well-groomed, professional look.'"
—The New York Times reported that 61 percent of human resource managers said a tattoo would hurt a job applicant’s chances, according to an annual survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania.
—Nearly four in 10 millennials have a tattoo. And about half of those with tattoos have two to five of them. Eighteen percent of millennials have six or more tattoos, according to Pew Research.
—One-quarter of survey respondents said that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27 percent), healthy (25 percent) or spiritual (25 percent), according to Harris Interactive.
—Click here for more tattoo statistics from the National Post.
First Tennessee employees who interact with customers are not permitted to have visible tattoos, he said. Employees must cover them up and are not allowed to have visible piercings other than up to two in each ear or of a "normal size and location," Sanford said.
Though that policy may be "more stodgy than most," First Tennessee also has strict guidelines about revealing clothing and casual dress.
Even on casual days, employees aren't allowed to wear denim or tennis shoes, and clothes must be ironed. Unusual hair colors are also off-limits.
In 2012, one in five adults in the United States had a tattoo, according to research firm Harris Interactive. That number was up from 16 percent and 14 percent in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
Most people—86 percent—have never regretted getting a tattoo, but the Harris Interactive survey also found that 45 percent of respondents said that people with tattoos are less attractive. Twenty-seven percent said that people with tattoos are less intelligent, according to the survey.
Locally, employees at Erlanger must cover tattoos that are larger than 2 inches in diameter or linear tattoos that are longer than 3 inches, according to the hospital's policy.
Erlanger management also reserves the right to request an employee cover any tattoo based on size, number and description.
Jan Keys, Erlanger Health System chief nursing executive, said that surveys have shown that members of the public still have very traditional views of the way health caregivers should look.
"Many people still see nurses as the picture of cleanliness and professionalism, even going so far as to still picture nurses in their starched white uniforms and clean white caps," she said via email.
And many people feel more at ease with providers who look tidy and unassuming. Taking pride in appearance and trust between providers and patients is important in the industry, she said.
Some patients form an opinion about a health care provider's professional ability based on looks, she said.
"Tattoos are a personal choice, but until the vision of what a health care provider looks like catches up with more moderate trends, organizations must have policies that respect both the patient and the provider, hence the guidelines," she said. "Should the way we look affect a patient’s view of how well we do our job? No, but the simple fact is, it does. And in all likelihood, it will always matter."
But not all local businesses and industries have such strict policies.
Volkswagen leaders don't make any hiring decisions based on physical appearances, company spokesman Scott Wilson said.
There is no VW policy about displaying tattoos, and many employees do have them, he said.
"In the event that someone complained about another employee's visible tattoos that they found offensive or harassing, we would address it on a case-by-case basis," Wilson said. "We have never had such a case."
Lamp Post Group partner Jack Studer said his company would hire people who have visible tattoos.
Studer said he thinks the business world is moving past the days when tattoos were seen as unprofessional, although he admitted that Lamp Post Group might not represent the mainstream.
And according to a Forbes.com article from last year, "With many contemporary companies stressing commitments to diversity and inclusion, tattoos are becoming increasingly unproblematic across the board."
Fork & Pie Bar doesn't prohibit visible tattoos, as long as they aren't offensive in nature, owner Michael Robinson said via email.
"Tattoos are typically not an issue, unless we feel it could take away from a customer's experience or is so distracting that the customer would feel uncomfortable," he said.
Robinson has a tattoo, but it isn't noticeable. He also said he respects the art and respects that other people have the freedom to do what they want with their bodies.
And he said that he suspects that most people know that if they cover their entire face with tattoos, there is the potential for that to impact job interviews.
"Tattoos are absolutely more accepted now than 50 years ago, but some people take it to another level not quite excepted by your everyday crowd," he also said.
Stratton Tingle, account executive with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, has one tattoo, but—on the inside of his lip—it's not visible. (And yes, getting a tattoo there hurt, he said.)
As an account executive, Tingle meets with business executives daily and helps them understand how to utilize member benefits.
Although he doesn't have a visible tattoo, Tingle's long, distinguishing dreadlocks are equally nontraditional.
"Businesspeople react in a variety of ways to the dreads," he said via email. "Most are intrigued and think it’s cool. Some don’t like them or are surprised to see my hair in dreads, but will usually say something to the effect of 'That’s an interesting hairstyle'; then, we move on to business."
He landed the job in 2009 and did have the dreadlocks at that time, he said.
And Tingle isn't opposed to getting more tattoos, especially because he wears a suit every day, because tattoos and piercings are becoming more mainstream and accepted in the workplace, he said.
"I think the general consensus is that if you want to be employed, you should probably steer clear of hand, neck and face tattoos, but employers are looking for something more than virgin skin," he said. "Tattoos will still turn people off (not necessarily just older people), but American society is becoming more open to them."
Disclaimer: Nooga.com is affiliated with the Lamp Post Group, but editorial decisions for this publication are made independently of the Lamp Post Group.
Updated @ 9:34 a.m. on 9/23/13 to add more information.