Tattoos and unfavorable treatment among employees in the hospitality industry

Michael J. Tews, Kathryn Stafford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: As employers are purportedly becoming more receptive to tattoos, the question arises whether tattooed employees are nonetheless subject to unfavorable treatment. In this light, the purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of different tattoo characteristics on four outcomes: annual earnings, fair interpersonal treatment from supervisors, perceived discrimination and perceived overqualification. The specific tattoo characteristics were tattoo number, visibility and content. Design/methodology/approach: Survey data from a sample of 162 tattooed hospitality employees were obtained from a Qualtrics research panel and analyzed using regression. Findings: The results demonstrated that employees with a greater degree of dark tattoo content (content of a more threatening and intimidating nature) received less favorable treatment, as demonstrated by significant relationships with fair interpersonal treatment, perceived discrimination and perceived overqualification. Tattoo number was related to increased perceived discrimination and perceived overqualification. At the same time, tattoo number was related to increased annual earnings, signaling a benefit. Research limitations/implications: Measures of tattoo characteristics and workplace outcomes were collected in a single survey. An analysis of data collected at different points would potentially provide a more definitive test of cause and effect. Practical implications: On one front, organizations should establish grooming policies that specify what is acceptable with respect to tattoos. To help minimize personality-related tattoo stereotypes from influencing hiring decisions, organizations could use personality assessments to make the hiring process more objective. Moreover, diversity training could address tattoo-related stereotypes, bias and prejudice. Originality/value: Even though prior studies have demonstrated that tattooed people are viewed as less suitable for employment, research focused on the relationship between tattoos and actual discrimination has been limited. The results from this study highlight that employees with tattoos may still be subject to maltreatment, despite the mainstreaming of tattoos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1925-1940
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 23 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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