A Code of Conduct is a guide to the expected behaviours at work. It builds on company values and sets expectations about how the values are put into practice. This post explains how to create an effective code of conduct for your organisation.
Why have a Code of Conduct?
We have already written about the importance of developing values in the workplace. Workplace values describe the core ethics or principles which the company will abide by, no matter what. A values statement can help promote cohesiveness by setting out the common values that are held by people employed at the company.
A Code of Conduct supports those values by informing employees of expectations about behaviour at the workplace. These expectations can be positive – that an employee should do something (for example ‘Staff should treat customers and other staff members with courtesy and respect’), or negative – prohibitions on how staff should act (for example, ‘Employees should not discriminate against customers or other employees’).
A well drafted Code of Conduct provides a measuring stick for employees from all over the business to determine if a behaviour meets the company expectations. It helps them to ‘walk the talk’ of company values.
A Code of Conduct is an important tool for Human Resource Managers to manage inappropriate behaviour and misconduct by employees. Coupled with a properly drafted disciplinary procedure, the Code of Conduct provides a benchmark for you to refer to when dealing with misconduct. Importantly, it enables you to act to neutralise inappropriate behaviour at its early stage – before the behaviour escalates into a bullying complaint or sexual harassment claim.
Checklist: What to put in a Code of Conduct?
A Code of Conduct should include:
A clear statement of the company’s values.
A clear statement how the company expects employees to behave. Under each of the company’s values, spell out the behaviours that are expected to demonstrate this value. For example, if your company value is ‘Respect’, the corresponding Code of Conduct behaviours might be:
‘We treat each other with courtesy and respect’; and
‘We value and promote diversity’; as well as
‘We abide by the laws in relation to discrimination, harassment, bullying and victimisation’.
Be clear about who the Code of Conduct applies to. Most codes of conduct will apply to all employees including managers and executives. In organisations with volunteers, the Code of Conduct will usually apply to them too. Organisations with contractors may choose to include compliance with the Code of Conduct as a term of engagement with the contractor.
Include references to other relevant employment policies and procedures within the organisation (Discrimination, Bullying, Conflict of Interest). Make it clear that these policies should be read alongside the Code of Conduct.
Include a statement about the consequences of failure to follow the Code of Conduct. Link the failure to meet expectations to your performance improvement and disciplinary procedures.
6. Next Steps
Outline the steps employees and managers can take if they feel that the Code of Conduct is breached. You can build the complaints process into the Code of Conduct or link to a separate complaints procedure.
Now I’ve got a draft Code of Conduct, what do I do with it?
Consult on it!
In order to build employee buy-in, a draft Code of Conduct should have input from every area of the business. You want to make sure that everyone has a stake in the expected behaviours at work. If the code is simply handed down from Human Resources with no opportunity for input, it risks having little employee support and may not be very effective.
Don’t leave the Code of Conduct sitting on a shelf. A Code of Conduct that only sees the light of day when an employee is disciplined for breaching one of the standards, is not living up to its potential.
Keep your Code of Conduct front of mind. Refer to your Code of Conduct in recruitment, orientation and in training. Find some creative ways to keep your employees informed about your values and Code of Conduct.
The leaders in the business need to demonstrate the behaviours in the Code of Conduct and show that they take the expectations seriously. Train your leaders in the Code and get their enthusiastic agreement on using the Code as the benchmark for behaviour at the company.
Act on it!
If you see a breach of the Code of Conduct, act on it straight away. You do not need to wait for a complaint from an employee to enforce that you mean it when you say that there are standards of behaviour that your workplace will not accept. The behavioural expectations set out in a Code of Conduct enable a Human Resource Managers to perform an ‘organisation led’ investigation into questionable behaviour.
Keep the Code of Conduct a living document. Review it every year or two and decide if it still reflects your company’s values or if you need to refresh it.