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Body art in the workplace: piercing the prejudice?

Brian K. Miller (Department of Management, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)
Kay McGlashan Nicols (Department of Management, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)
Jack Eure (Department of Marketing, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 18 September 2009




The prevalence of body art is on the rise; particularly among college age persons. This study aims to use group norms theory (GNT) and the justification‐suppression model of the expression of prejudice to examine the impact of body art such as tattoos and piercings on ratings of acceptability by co‐workers.


In a full‐factorial two‐by‐two scenario‐based experiment the authors manipulated the presence or absence of face‐to‐face customer contact and the interdependency of the distribution of rewards.


After controlling for participants' own tattoos and piercings, impression management, openness‐to‐experience, and agreeableness, the authors have found that an inside sales job and independent rewards are significantly positively related to acceptability but that their interaction was not.

Research limitations/implications

The limitations of this study include the fact that it is a scenario‐based experiment using a fictitious co‐worker and that the sample is comprised of college students. However, manipulating body art in a live confederate would likely to have been impossible and college students are in the age group in which body art is most prevalent, making them logical candidates on which to examine the hypotheses.

Practical implications

Even those with body art themselves still prefer not to work with body art (non‐concealable) wearers in jobs with high levels of face‐to‐face customer contact or in jobs in which rewards are shared equally like team‐based sales.


An experimental design is used so as to manipulate only those characteristics of the work relationship hypothesized to be of interest, while controlling for extraneous variables like attractiveness and personality in the co‐worker, which vary greatly from person to person.



Miller, B.K., McGlashan Nicols, K. and Eure, J. (2009), "Body art in the workplace: piercing the prejudice?", Personnel Review, Vol. 38 No. 6, pp. 621-640.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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