top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Grocutt

Tattooed Workers: Customer Evaluations & The Role of Context

Ruggs, E. N., & Hebl, M. R. (2022). Do employees' tattoos leave a mark on customers' reactions to products and organizations?Journal of Organizational Behavior43(6), 965-982.

Tattoos are becoming more common in modern Western societies. Yet, questions remain about their appropriateness in the workplace, particularly when considering customer perceptions of tattooed employees in white-collar jobs (e.g., lawyers) and how perceptions might vary by industry.


Tattoos evoke stereotypes; on the one hand, many are negative, such as those with tattoos being perceived as less competent and more likely to engage in risky behaviours, while on the other hand, some are more positive, such as being more artistic.


Drs. Enrica Ruggs and Mikki Hebl conducted two experiments to examine how stereotypes of tattooed individuals influenced customer attitudes toward tattooed workers. In addition, Ruggs and Hebl examined the role of industry, namely the artistic (or lack thereof) nature of the job.

Study 1 looked at the role tattoos play in customer perceptions of the tattooed employee, the organization, and the products sold by the organization. Study 2 assessed how tattoos affect hiring service providers in white-collar jobs with different levels of artistic aspects.

AI generated image of a tattooed business person.
AI generated image of a tattooed business person.


Study 1


In the first experiment, fictional marketing videos were created with a fictitious employee discussing the products sold by the organization for which they work. There were multiple versions of the video, all of the content being the same, but the employees and tattoo presence differed. The employee gender[1]  varied (woman or man), and tattoo[2] presence varied (present or absent).


After watching the video, participants were asked to evaluate the employee and the organization. A total of 327 participants completed the study.

Outcomes of interest:

(1)  Stereotypes (i.e., risky behaviour, competence, artistic traits)

(2)  Evaluation of employee (e.g., helpfulness, knowledge of the products being sold)

(3)  Evaluation of organization (e.g., profitability, attractiveness to customers)

(4)  Evaluation of products (e.g., value, popularity, quality)

(5)  Intentions to support the organization




Regarding stereotypes, tattooed employees were rated as higher on perceived risky behaviour and artistic traits than non-tattooed employees (there was no relationship between tattoo presence and perceived competence).


These stereotypes affected participants’ evaluations of the employee, organization, and products.


Tattooed employees were viewed as more likely to engage in risky behaviours, resulting in lower evaluations of the employee.


Tattooed employees were also viewed as having more artistic traits, which resulted in higher evaluations of the employees (e.g., viewing them as more helpful), higher evaluations of the organization and products, and greater intentions to support the organization.


The artistic traits stereotype affected employee evaluations more than the risky behaviour stereotype.


Study 2


The second experiment aimed to examine context, namely whether the industry was artistic or non-artistic, to see if perceptions of tattooed employees depended on industry context. Specifically, do customer perceptions differ by type of job, namely graphic designer versus lawyer?


Participants were placed in the position of a client hiring a service provider for either an artistic white-collar job (graphic designer) or a non-artistic white-collar job (lawyer). The service provider presented either had tattoos or no tattoos. Participants were shown a written description with a photo of the service provider. After viewing this, participants were asked to complete a survey about the service provider they were shown to assess stereotypes and the likelihood of hiring the service provider. There were 282 participants that completed the survey.


Outcomes of interest

(1)  Stereotypes (competence, risky behaviour, artistic traits)

(2)  Likelihood of hiring service provider




Regarding stereotypes, tattooed service providers were rated higher on perceived artistic traits, risky behaviour, and competence than non-tattooed service providers.


For hiring intentions, participants had lower intentions to hire tattooed service providers than non-tattooed service providers. But when considering the stereotypes, participants had a higher intention to hire tattooed service providers through perceptions of artistic traits and competence, but lower intention to hire tattooed service providers through perceptions of risky behaviour.


When considering job context, the tattooed service provider in the artistic context (i.e., graphic design) was rated as higher in perceived competence and subsequently more likely to be hired compared to the non-tattooed service provider in the artistic context. There were no significant differences in effects for the non-artistic context (i.e., law).


In exploratory analyses looking at frequencies, the results showed that 70% of participants agreed that there is a stigma towards people with tattoos.


Key Takeaways: What does this mean for tattooed workers?


Perceptions of tattooed workers’ stereotypical attributes are not all negative. Tattooed workers are perceived as more likely to engage in risky behaviour, yet at the same time, they are also perceived to be higher in artistic traits (perceptions of competence are mixed). In addition, perceptions of artistic traits have stronger effects on subsequent evaluations of tattooed workers; thus, positive evaluations may be more likely.


Context may be an important factor in how tattooed workers are perceived. In artistic jobs, tattoos are likely to be seen as an asset and can elicit perceptions of competence of tattooed workers in this context because their tattoos show their artistic side, which fits with the job. 



[1] There were two men and two women to reduce the risk of the effects being due to characteristics of the specific people portrayed.

[2] Two different images were used for the tattoo, one a sun and the other a yin yang symbol, to reduce the risk of any effects being due a specific tattoo. When analyzed there were no differences between the tattoos so they were combined into a “tattoo present” condition.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page