Recruiting the Young Generation: Tattoos and Piercings are Part of the Mix

By Robert M. O'Halloran Professor & Director, School of Hospitality Leadership, East Carolina University | February 28, 2016

In a recent conversation at the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) fall meetings in New York, several hotel professionals were discussing the issue of tattoos, body art, piercings, and hiring. The framework for the conversations included company policies, social acceptance, visibility, and appropriateness of tattoos in the hospitality work place. Personal appearance and changing societal norms can cause conflicts for some when recruiting.

As a college professor at a large hospitality program, I have seen an increased number of tattoos, piercings and other personal appearance changes from the younger generation(s), Gen Y or Millennials and perhaps Generation Z. Millennials are defined by most researchers by birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s to identify Gen Y (Wikipedia, 2015) and Generation Z (also iGen or Post-Millennials) are described as a cohort of people born after the Millennial Generation. There is disagreement on the name and exact range of birth dates with some sources start this generation at the mid or late 1990s or from the mid-2000s to the present day (Wikipedia, 2015). These young people in these segments see tattoos, hair styles, piercings et al as socially acceptable personal expressions and therefore an acceptable option in the work place.

A quick overview of many hospitality businesses and or hospitality classrooms would likely note many young men with some facial hair. Facial hair appears to have become more of a style, and much of that “look” might be considered scruffy and or not well groomed by older generations. Additionally, some young employees and students have visible tattoos on their arms, legs, ankles and elsewhere. Additionally there are also various piercings and those with non-natural hair colors, and of course, the expected baseball cap attire (either forward or backward) in the young talent pool. These personal appearance distinctions could be typical sample of what a young talent pool may present in addition to their applications.

Many hospitality businesses have dress codes and personal appearance policies. In college classrooms, most students are allowed to come to class dressed as they like and dress codes do not exist (note there are exceptions). However, most hospitality programs call upon students, to rise to the occasion, and dress professionally for special events (Career Fairs) and visitors or guest speakers. When a business requires professional dress, the question then is “What is professional appearance and or professional dress”?

As a baby boomer, this author is what would be described as “old school” in terms of hotel and restaurant policies for personal appearance. In an old school genre, permissible facial hair might permit a well-trimmed mustache to be okay but beards were often taboo. A discussion of jewelry in general and or earrings specifically typically focused on women and did not consider men. Additionally, earrings meant “posts”, rings meant one ring (a wedding ring typically), and clear nail polish. Hair, if long, needed to be clean and worn up and back, off the neck. Some of these policies are still in place in some companies but for others, times have changed. Everyone has their own personal preferences but we all need to keep up to date and be aware of changing social customs and new standards and or levels of what is acceptable. Employers will certainly need to be aware of these changes and how it influences their pool of potential recruits.

Hospitality Personal Appearance

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