Ask Angel

Working with a Hack

Dear Ms. Angel, I’m so upset I don’t even know what to do, so I hope you can give me some guidance. I work in a tattoo shop with one other piercer, “Jane” (not her real name). The truth is, though I hate to say it, Jane is a TOTAL HACK. The owner is a money guy, not a bodyart guy, and he is always busy and in a hurry and doesn’t seem to care. Jane is telling people to use Bactine for aftercare and to put Dial on a q-tip to remove crusties and not wash it off! She pierces with jewelry that is way too small or too big, even when we have the right size. Her piercing placement is sometimes way off—like really shallow daiths, and nostril piercings too low or far back. She’s inconsistent and obviously doesn’t care about doing a good job. But I do! Also, she does a lot of terrible things in terms of cross-contaminating our workspace. I would have to call her a menace. I wipe everything down every time I begin a shift because I don’t trust her filthy habits. But today was my last straw: One of her clients literally limped in today complaining of pain, and oh my god! She had come in for a hood piercing (vertical) and Jane actually pierced her hood to her clitoris. She pierced all the way through her clit to the underneath of it where her inner labia start. This poor victim said Jane used forceps, and that the piercing was the most painful thing she had ever been through in her whole life. She couldn’t even walk for 15 minutes and couldn’t stop crying. I was horrified but I didn’t say what a hack Jane is. I always try to be professional, and I know it would be bad for the studio to sh*t-talk a co-worker. I have tried to talk to Jane, but she is super defensive and a know it all and won’t listen to anything. I’ve tried talking to our boss but he’s too busy dealing with the tattoo artists and doesn’t seem to think piercing is important. To make things even worse, we’re both “the piercer with a lot of piercings and tattoos who wears glasses” so I am sure that people are mistaking us for each other, which makes me want to pull my hair out! And, of course, I hate to see people getting piercings that aren’t safe or done right. I love my job, but Jane is a nightmare. There aren’t a lot of other opportunities in my area or I would just quit and get a job somewhere else. What can I do? Sorry this is so long. Thank you, F.
Dear F., Wow, that does sound like a nightmare. Even if you do your best to sanitize the studio, when you work with someone who has a habit of cross-contaminating the premises, there’s greater potential for risk to your clients, and to you personally. You noted this as an “also,” after describing the other issues, but this is a major problem, since it isn’t only your mental health that’s at stake in this situation. I’ve been in body art businesses (and medical facilities) where I was afraid to touch anything when I saw how poorly hygiene protocols were handled. This is no joke in the age of hepatitis and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can live on inanimate surfaces for prolonged periods of time. Hepatitis B can survive outside the body for about a week(i), hep C for up to three weeks(ii), and MRSA (antibiotic-resistant staph) for over eight weeks(iii)! In spite of doing your best to keep things clean, I’d bet there are more pathogens in your work environment than there should be if she is a “filthy menace.” Your attempts to talk to Jane and your boss have not been rewarding, but I’m going advise you to give it another go with each of them, while trying some approaches that might improve the outcome. Because, short of living with the situation as it is (which doesn’t sound like a sustainable option), the only other choice is to quit. That would be a shame, because Jane would continue to be a danger without anybody even trying to improve her work habits—not to mention how your life would be affected by resigning. It is important to accept that you can’t control other people’s behavior. But, if you can manage to get through and actually connect with Jane and/or your boss, there’s some chance you could bring about constructive changes. Pick your battles and prioritize the areas of conflict to discuss. Trying to deal with everything at once is a recipe for failure. Difficult as it may be, you must keep your emotions in check when you attempt to have these talks. Focus on facts, performance, and events more than how things make you feel. This next suggestion may be surprising, but I’m going to advise that you try to be empathetic. Consider that Jane’s know-it-all attitude probably stems from having low self-confidence. She might be aware that she’s not competent and qualified, or feel inferior on some deeper level. Try to find some common ground. When we focus on things we agree on, this makes it easier to hear to what the other person has to say, and it connects us on an emotional level in a positive manner. Come up with a topic to discuss like a procedure you both do the same way. Then ask why she believes something else to be appropriate or true (her aftercare advice for example), inquire about her sources, and actually listen to what she has to say. Try to recognize Jane and her idea. Maybe acknowledge that those products used to be suggested for care. Then, present your own perspective with the relevant research and facts to support it. The more armed you are with knowledge and data the better. I know there’s not much documentation on what constitutes “industry standards” in our field. But materials from the Association of Professional Piercers such as the FAQ(iv), and publications including the Procedure Manual(v), and my book, The Piercing Bible(vi), are solid resources for showing Jane accepted practices and procedures. When it comes to your boss, try empathy again: think about the many tasks and responsibilities a business owner has to deal with. One more thing might feel like just too much. So, approach your boss gently, and be armed with some possible solutions (a more qualified employee to hire?), rather than leaving him feeling as though you are just dumping a problem on his shoulders. It might be helpful to show how Jane’s actions have negatively impacted the bottom line of the business via dissatisfied customers, poor reviews, and damage to the studio’s reputation. Hopefully you directed the injured woman to contact the owner, lodge a complaint, and request a refund? Then he could see that you’re not the only one with grievances. When it comes to safety, compromise isn’t appropriate. Your co-worker seriously injured a client and is endangering all who enter there. If you can’t work reasonably happily and safely under the existing conditions and nothing you do effects any change, then your only viable option is to move on. (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi)