15.7.07

THE HABITS OF EFFECTIVE PEOPLE. The primary reason for my trip overseas was to participate in an Oxford Round Table originally intended to address education strategies for serving children of poor families but ultimately dealing with a more eclectic range of topics. One of the policy problems that participants addressed, only gingerly, was the most effective way of socializing youngsters without sending the message that their current habits were not conducive to success.

It's not much easier in the workplace, where, once again, body art has the potential to be a job-killer.
Once associated with drunken sailors, felons and Hells Angels, tattoos have gone nearly mainstream, putting employers in a bind. How to write rules that won't alienate un-hip customers on the one hand or eliminate talented workers on the other?
Perhaps one ought to start by understanding who is currently making the rules.

In many cases, grooming policies are being set by members of a generation known for letting it all hang out.

"The baby boomers had hair out to the ceiling, cut jeans, ripped clothes that they washed sometimes," said Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXroads, a New Jersey recruiting and consulting firm.

Here. We. Go. Again. "Baby boomer" neither implies nor is implied by "hippie." Do the research. In the 1972 election a majority of the 18-21 voters voted for Richard Nixon, and the concept of so self-evidently a Thirteenth Generation consultant passing judgement on the majority who were not damn-hippies amuses. I'm visualizing a thirtysomething widebody with the two-day shadow goatee going gray and the tattoos fading and sagging. Sure you want to go there?

The logic, and the within-generation divide, are as they were in the Sixties.

Nearly 50% of Americans between 21 and 32 have at least one tattoo or a piercing other than in an ear, according to a 2006 study by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Men and women alike say their tattoos make them feel sexy and rebellious, a 2003 Harris Poll found, while the unadorned of both genders see body art as unsightly and think those with tattoos and piercings are less intelligent and less attractive.

For Tumbleweed Day Camp in L.A., this divide can cause headaches. Although counselors' body art tends toward ladybugs or Asian characters for "luck," some parents complain that the inked and pierced don't look like appropriate role models. But Director John Beitner said that if he adopted a no-tattoo policy, he would lose excellent candidates for the camp's 120 counseling jobs.

Conformity in rebellion, forsooth! And again, the market test: the camp that shows a preference for the un-mutilated may have to pay a price for indulging in its preferences. State, and discuss, the obvious generalization.

Because body mutilations are not as easily reversible as long hair or bad hygiene, the article notes there is a thriving industry in removing messages that send the wrong signal. On the other hand, there's nothing like a good performance to obtain indulgence from those who would otherwise object.

Financial planner Eric Cohen is having none of that. His boss at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in Torrance is untroubled by the dragon that sometimes pokes out from Cohen's shirt cuff.

The 37-year old got the tattoo, which envelops his right forearm, in 1996 when he was working as a hotel concierge. "I still love it," he said.

When he interviewed with A.G. Edwards seven years ago, Cohen made sure to keep the dragon under wraps. He kept it covered during his first few years on the job.

Now, a string of solid performance reviews behind him, Cohen sometimes goes to work in short sleeves. "My boss is a relaxed kind of guy," he said. Besides, "it gets warm in here."

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, a poster popular in Madison showed Albert Einstein on a wild-hair day with a caption to the effect that what was under it mattered. Good sentiments, but the onus is still on the rebel to perform.

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