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Workplace Professionalism in a New Era

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

While just fifteen years ago it was Millennials that the media was obsessed with discussing in the workplace context, Gen-Z has become the new hot topic in the discussion of the changing workforce. Born between 1997 and 2012, the oldest members of this generation are in their mid twenties, and many of them are likely on the job hunt. Deemed as “more radical,” as younger generations always are, Gen-Z is also a generation that has been labeled as “edgy.” Part of this is due to the piercings and tattoos that they are getting at younger and younger ages. 

The discussion of what appearances and styles that employers consider “professional” has been a polarizing one in the 21st century. As business casual becomes the norm for many sectors, sometimes leaning even more on the casual side, Gen-Z has been cited as pioneering the growing move towards a more casual workplace dress code. While clothes are a more simple topic in the “workplace appearance acceptability” discourse, tattoos and piercings introduce a new dimension.

While tattoos and piercings are not unique to Gen-Z, the rate at which this generation is receiving tattoos and piercings is higher and faster than other generations. Many Gen-Zers will be entering the workforce with these styles, so what will the employer/workplace response be? 

Following a workforce crisis of sorts as a result of COVID-19 in 2020, employers are growing more and more easygoing with what they expect of dress codes and professional appearances. But where do piercings and tattoos fit into this discussion? Labeled as “body modifications,” tattoos and piercings have typically been considered taboo in a professional workplace environment, especially in the business/financial industries. Is this changing? 

The short answer: it depends on the industry. Moreso, it depends on the company. “Companies are becoming better at signifying what kind of culture they are projecting” in today’s professional world,” says Anneke Mason, Senior Associate Director and Career Coach at Denison’s Knowlton Center for Career Exploration. She stresses that while workplace etiquette has been evolving, expectations on professional appearance continue to vary by industry. What is deemed an “acceptable appearance” in a hospital may be measured differently at a technology company. 

More communication from employers regarding professionalism has allowed new employees to enter the workforce knowing whether or not their tattoos and piercings are okay to be on display during the workday. The need for new employees, and young ones at that, has encouraged some employers to drop dress code/body modification standards. 

This conversation revolving around professionalism sheds light on the issue of the term itself. Who’s to say that certain hairstyles or culturally-significant tattoos do not fit the idea of an ideal employee? Do these styles diminish the good work that employees contribute to a company? Offensive or insensitive tattoos introduce an entirely new issue into this discussion and drive the conversation in an entirely different way. But for those who’s tattoos do not serve to offend others, this discussion on workplace professionalism remains a frustrating one. As someone with a hand tattoo and nose ring, I have high hopes for future employers. 

Fiona Schultz

Denison '23

Fiona is a senior at Denison University who works as the Senior Editor and Co-Chapter Coordinator for the Denison Chapter of Her Campus. She is from Minneapolis, Minnesota and is pursuing a History major as well as two minors in Political Science and Environmental Studies. Her favorite pastimes include reading mystery novels, making curated playlists, and catching up on politics.