What Is a Code of Conduct?
A code of conduct is a document providing employees with a set of rules, principles, standards, and regulations that outline what the employer expects of them. The code clarifies the company’s mission and values to the staff and explains how these values should be implemented. So although the document includes ideals and goals, it also provides specific rules and standards, practical procedures, and communication policies.
The company’s culture often relates to how employees are expected to behave, ethical principles, and mindsets. But usually, these indicators are the subject of a code of ethics, not a code of conduct. So ensure you got a comprehensive but effective code of conduct.
What Is the Difference Between the Code of Conduct and the Code of Ethics?
A code of ethics refers to ethical principles, mindset, decision-making methods, and moral character. It’s a document within which you can find references to integrity, equality, inclusivity, kindness, and respect. A code of ethics offers an overall perspective of the company’s culture, beliefs, and moral status. On the other hand, a code of conduct is business-oriented and includes clear policies referring to attendance, dress code, company property, communication, and employee interaction.
While some codes of ethics may include legal consequences regarding the violation of the code, almost all codes of conduct include procedural consequences for not following the code.
Why Is the Code of Conduct Important?
A code of conduct is important because it makes clear and transparent what the employer expects from the employees, what principles should be followed, and what consequences are to be expected in case of a code violation. The code of conduct also outlines the company’s culture, business motivation, and mission. It lets employees know what values are valued within the organization, the company’s goals, and what to expect from their work environment. Among the benefits of a code of conduct are:
- It outlines the expected behaviors, the company’s principles and policies, and business standards.
- It ensures transparency, inclusivity, and equality of chance. All employees follow the same code of conduct.
- It creates awareness of the company’s culture and mission.
- It provides clear measurements for employee performance and procedural consequences for not following the code.
- It helps employees understand the company’s goal and work towards it.
- It helps the company comply with the industry’s legal requirements (e.g., health, public service, etc.)
How to write code of conduct?
Writing an efficient code of conduct is not easy because it needs to match your company’s culture, the industry’s specific legal requirements, if any, and the profile of your employees. But a few aspects make almost all codes of conduct because they provide structure, transparency, and trust. Remember to include in the code of conduct the following:
- The company’s values and mission – Your employees should know from their first day of work what the company believes in and hopes to achieve. You want to be part of something important and relevant to you as an employee. People are wired for connection, interaction, and community. If they don’t feel included or trust your company’s goals, their performance, and productivity will be affected by a lack of motivation and responsibility. Therefore, outline from the beginning your company’s policy for employee rights, diversity and inclusion, equality of chance, social and environmental responsibility, business principles, and so on.
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- Expected employee behavior – Ensure your employees know what is expected of them in terms of dress code, interaction with co-workers and customers, communication policies, and so on. This section could outline expectations for how employees should conduct themselves in the workplace, such as treating others with respect, maintaining a professional demeanor, and avoiding discrimination or harassment. It could also cover things like appropriate use of company resources (e.g., not using work computers for personal activities) and expectations around attendance and punctuality.
Include the company’s policy on:
- social media use,
- performance reviews,
- cell phone use,
- discrimination, and
- everything that may impact the employee.
- Internal practices: This section could cover communication protocols (e.g., how to address conflicts or raise concerns), expectations around teamwork and collaboration, and guidelines for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.
Employees need to know:
- HR processes and policies,
- job duties,
- how to communicate with different departments,
- the company’s org chart,
- attendance and punctuality,
- financial aspects,
- Annual leave,
- Sick leave,
- work security,
- break policy,
- absence without notice,
- remote work policy,
- confidentiality, and
- everything else related to their work environment.
- External practices: This section could cover things like how employees should interact with clients or customers, expectations around confidentiality and data privacy, conflict of interest, and guidelines for social media use (e.g., not posting anything that could reflect poorly on the company).
- The consequences of not following the code of conduct – The code of conduct should make clear the company’s procedures in case of violating the code. In many cases, we only talk about warnings. But there are situations when violating a confidentiality disclosure agreement or being absent for too long without a solid motive may require stronger actions. And it’s always better to inform the employees from the beginning.
Overall, a code of conduct should be clear and comprehensive and serve as a guide for all employees to follow to maintain a positive and productive work environment.
How to Enforce a Code of Conduct?
Enforcing a code of conduct means ensuring all your employees know and understand its content. Make a habit of presenting new employees with the company’s code of conduct as a step in their onboarding process. Also, create a straightforward procedure for sharing any code of conduct updates with your staff. To ensure adherence to the code of conduct, use the following tips:
- Disseminate the code of conduct as part of the onboarding process.
- Ask employees for feedback regarding the code of conduct and make helpful updates if necessary.
- Share any updates to the code of conduct with the employees.
- Provide efficient communication methods to prevent violations or react at the first signs.
- Refer to the code of conduct whenever a performance measurement or corrective measure occurs.
- Respect the code of conduct and be transparent anytime a violation occurs.
Best practices for creating a good code of conduct
Now you better understand what you should add to your code of conduct. Still, here are some best practices for writing a good code of conduct:
- Be clear and specific - Outline expected and prohibited behaviors in detail. Avoid vague language.
- Prioritize inclusivity - The code should make all participants feel welcome and valued. Focus on building a positive, supportive environment.
- Establish consequences - Define what will happen if the code is violated, like warnings or removal from the community. Consequences should be proportionate.
- Apply broadly - The code should apply to all members in all community spaces and interactions. Make it clear there are no exceptions.
- Implement reporting guidelines - Provide a clear process for reporting violations anonymously. Assure no retaliation for reports made in good faith.
- Be collaborative - Get community input and feedback when creating or revising the code. Make it a group effort.
- Post prominently - Promote the code on websites, forums, social media, and other visible locations. Existing and new members should see it.
- Review regularly - Revisit the code of conduct periodically to keep it current. Adjust to evolving community norms if needed.
- Lead by example - Those in leadership roles should consistently model good behavior and enforce the code. No one is above the code.
- Be positive - Frame the code as a way to help the community flourish, not just a list of thou-shall-not. Keep language affirmative.
Code of Conduct Examples
Merck is a biopharmaceutical company with a long history, intensive research policy, and over 69,000 employees. Their code of conduct is public and focuses on business practices and compliance with recommendations set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals created by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). They also outline their policies regarding diversity and inclusion, social and environmental responsibility, patient confidentiality, and more.
The latest version of their code of conduct can be downloaded here.
The Japanese beauty company currently operates in 120 countries. Therefore, their code of conduct is adapted to each country’s legislation and states the rules and actions that must be taken by their employees worldwide. The document includes decision-making guidelines, human rights, diversity policies, procedures for a healthy and safe work environment, and standards for interaction with customers, business partners, and shareholders. The code of conduct also outlines Shisheido’s environmental and social responsibility mission and compliance with industry-related legislation.
A direct link to the English version of their code of conduct can be found here.
One of the leaders in photo and video equipment, Canon concentrated its business philosophy on a single word: “kyosei,” meaning “living and working together for the common good.” The company’s code of conduct is a comprehensive guide covering everything from what is expected from their employees to consequences for code violations, Canon’s contribution to society, fair practice, and the company’s ethics. The document also covers the management of the company’s assets and property, information management, work-related conflicts, and working environment behavior.
Kraft Heinz’s code of conduct is a 16 pages document that emphasizes the company’s mission for ethical standards, safety in the working environment, confidentiality, diversity and inclusion, quality standards, and so on. The code also outlines marketing goals, interaction with customers and shareholders, the use of the company’s assets, work-related conflict policies, and the expected general behavior of their employees. Kraft Heinz doesn’t forget about social and environmental responsibility and encourages employees not to tolerate anything that doesn’t respect the code of conduct and report any violations as soon as possible.
The luxury fashion brand has a code of conduct specifically for its suppliers. According to the code, suppliers for Dior are expected to comply with “all applicable laws, regulations, and national and international conventions, as well as with best practices, in particular with regards to ethics, social responsibility and protection of the environment.” The document outlines labor standards and social responsibilities, environmental regulations and responsibilities, and business integrity requirements. The company also reserves the right to confirm supplier compliance through audits, inspections, and data analysis.
Discover the code of conduct for some of the most well-known companies:
Having a code of conduct is not something just big companies do. It’s a matter of principle to outline what you expect from your employees, suppliers, and business partners and, more importantly, what you won’t tolerate. Regardless of the legal aspect, a code of conduct shows respect, ethical principles, and responsibility. You can create a trustworthy working environment only if you promote transparency, fair trade, social and environmental responsibility, and business integrity. And it all starts with writing an honest and open code of conduct.