You're Hired: Tattoos, Purple Hair and All

blue hair and tattoos

CHICAGO -- As tight labor markets continue to pin hiring managers up against a wall, some retailers are wielding even the most fundamental HR policies as recruiting tools. In 2018, dress codes just might be the next battleground in talent acquisition.

Here are three refreshed guidelines to try on for size ...

1. Dress codes

racetrac employees

Starting in 2014, RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. created surveys and formed a task force to find out directly from team members what they wanted out of a uniform.

“One of the main things that help with overall engagement in our organization is the fact that we involve our team members in almost every decision that we make,” says Renzo Bassanini, director of field human resources for Atlanta-based RaceTrac. “A lot of these decisions are driven by our team members.”

Based on employee feedback, RaceTrac updated its dress code in 2016. Instead of business-casual khaki bottoms, RaceTrac employees can now slip into the pants, capris or shorts of their choosing. Store staff members also are welcome to proudly show off all body art except for face and neck tattoos.

More than 60% of respondents say they feel more productive under a relaxed dress code, according to Stormline.

2. Hair color

colored hair

Before RaceTrac updated its dress code, the retailer’s employee handbook had an entire paragraph dedicated to how employees should wear belts, said Nichole Upshaw, director of human resources for the chain, at the 2017 NACS Show. But calls for a more relaxed dress code kept surfacing in employee surveys, even after the company expanded rules about body art and pants.

The No. 1 item employees wanted to change? The chain’s rule against brightly colored hair. In the past year, RaceTrac decided to give employees what they want.

“We thought, ‘By god, let them have their purple hair,’ ” Upshaw said.

Sheetz Inc., Altoona, Pa., also has loosened its policies around tattoos and hair color. “We found those expectations have changed, and customers are more open to demonstrating uniqueness in the workplace,” said Emily Sheetz, director of talent development, at the NACS Show.

61% of people looking for a new job in 2017 said they would have a negative perception of a company that enforced a dress code, according to a survey by workwear retailer Stormline.

3. Tattoos


As it decided whether to change company policies against vibrant hair colors and exposed tattoos, the RaceTrac team also went through other policies in its handbook, with a new mindset.

“If it’s not there to keep customers or employees safe, I would question it,” Upshaw said. RaceTrac shared the new guidelines in a one-page cheat sheet of 10 essential policies staff need to know. Not only does the abbreviated format help keep the attention of the listicle generation, but it also helps the chain to avoid looking stuffy. “Rules are annoying and do take away from you seeming flexible.”

Kwik Trip Inc., La Crosse, Wis., is “probably not at the point where we allow a lot of crazy hair colors,” said Greg Olsen, head of retail operations, citing the more conservative client base of his chain’s stores. Trimmed beards and mustaches and clean uniforms are also mandatory. But Kwik Trip did relax one requirement: tattoos.

“We used to have a very restrictive tattoo policy,” said Olsen. “We realized you can’t do that. There are a lot of people who are great who have tattoos.”

Rules about covering up tattoos create a negative perception for 17% of men and 10% of women, according to Stormline.