At some companies, employees are getting tattooed with their corporate logos to show support and loyalty. But is this a good thing?
By Harvey Meyer
A purple tattoo of a one-legged stick figure adorns Cail Morrison's calf. Nothing exceptional about that, except the tattoo depicts the corporate logo at Anytime Fitness, where he is franchise support vice president.
Ten employees Morrison supervises have inked the company's "Running Man" logo on their bodies, as have about 40 other company staffers. Peculiar? Yes. But a corporate cult? No, Morrison insists.
"There's absolutely no pressure to get a tattoo on my team," he says.
Of course, tattooed employees are hardly outliers these days. Still, 61 percent of HR managers said in a 2012 York College survey that a tattoo would damage a job applicant's chances.
Not so, apparently, at Hastings, Minn.-based Anytime Fitness or New York-based Rapid Realty NYC. Especially since a number of workers flash tattoos of their respective company logo.
Aside from helping the firms literally stamp an identity, both enterprises claim the corporate logo helps improve worker pride, loyalty, commitment and camaraderie.
Some employee-engagement experts, however, are ambivalent about company tattoos.
Lee Colan, employee-engagement author, consultant and president of Dallas-based The L Group, says the tattoos represent an intriguing employee covenant. But, he adds, "There are many ways to deepen engagement that don't require needles."
How it's Working
Employees of Anytime Fitness and Rapid Realty are reimbursed for tattooing their respective corporate logos, which can be customized and appear anywhere, even behind the ear.
At 140-employee Anytime Fitness -- which has about 2,340 fitness facilities globally -- the first tattoo emerged in 2004 because co-founder Chuck Runyon dared a personal training manager to get the Running Man tattoo. He did and Runyon quickly anted up by paying for the training manager's tattoo at a nearby parlor.
Runyon also boasts a tattoo, as do more than 1,300 others including employees, personal trainers, franchisees and customers. In fact, other than Harley Davidson, no other company globally has more corporate logos tattooed on individuals, says Mark Daly, Anytime Fitness' media director.
"I don't think you get a tattoo of a company if you're not truly, wholeheartedly committed" to the firm, says Morrison.
But Susan Stamm, president of a Lancaster, Pa., company -- The Team Approach -- and employee-engagement author, says worker loyalty should be expressed in daily actions, not with a tattoo.
Stamm says the tattoos could divide a company into those with and without the corporate logo. Even if there isn't direct company pressure, she says, those without may feel discomfited.
Morrison says several employees wondered if a tattoo might offer them an inside track. But Morrison advises against the tattoos -- unless they are particularly meaningful.
"Especially when I'm talking with prospective employees, I play down the tattoos," he says. "I don't want them to think it is a requirement or that this is something you do when you work here."
Daly says Anytime Fitness tattoos are symbolic of employee loyalty, but they don't cause it. He says the inkings do contribute to increased esprit de corps.
"And when your employees are happy," says Daly, "they tend to be more productive."
Are There Benefits?
Rapid Realty is monitoring whether its 63 tattooed agents (out of about 1,000) are more productive than non-tattooed ones. It's too early to tell, says Ben Platt, communications director at the 64-office real-estate brokerage, which specializes in apartment rentals. Platt is "absolutely" certain, though, that the independent-contractor agents branded with the "RR" corporate logo sport improved pride and commitment in Rapid Realty.
"It may sound a little odd, but there is a degree of credibility with someone who has the company logo tattooed on his or her body," says Platt. "It appears it is someone who eats, drinks and sleeps this business."
The first company tattoo occurred in 2011 after a tattoo artist joked that a helpful agent should get inked with the company logo. The agent agreed and founder Anthony Lolli showed up to pay for the body art.
Publicity about the tattoos "exploded" after Rapid Realty won a national contest seeking creative-marketing tactics. The publicity significantly raised Rapid Realty's profile and, in fact, helped agents land additional business. Still, tongues wagged because tattooed agents are automatically -- and permanently -- elevated to Rapid Realty's highest commission.
"I'm sure that the commission increase is the biggest reason some agents got the tattoo," says Platt. "But the commission boost wasn't initially offered to encourage agents to get tattoos. It was to thank agents who had already gotten the tattoos for their unbelievable loyalty and commitment."
Agents can earn the top commission in myriad ways, including closing deals, leading training sessions and volunteering. Platt says the vast majority of the highest-commission agents don't exhibit the "RR" logo.
"I give [Rapid Realty] credit," says consultant Colan, "because they're giving agents a menu of options to increase their commission. That seems reasonable and fair."
Colan says corporate-logo tattoos offer an example, albeit extreme, of engaging employees and forging a bold company identity. "That's good," he says, "because I tell my clients you can't be everything to everybody." Colan acknowledges that company tattoos may both attract and repel some job applicants.
He says the corporate logos may boost worker retention by ensuring cognitive consistency between their body art and company actions. Platt agrees.
"When you get your company's logo tattooed on you, you're probably more likely to commit yourself ...," says Platt, adding that Rapid Realty boasts a "very strong" agent retention rate and camaraderie.
What if tattooed employees are fired or quit? Won't it inhibit them from, say, working for a competitor, especially if the corporate logo is visible? It's unclear, since it's not an issue either employer has heard about.
And what if an employee wants the tattoo removed -- at company expense?
"We have," says Platt, "never been contacted about that."