Developed as a set of principles and guidelines, a good code of conduct helps protect the rights and privileges afforded to all employees in an organization. Additionally, a well-written code informs all internal and external parties about the type of environment they should expect when dealing with the company.

We’ll explore various aspects of effective codes of conduct in this article and highlight some best practices for developing and implementing them successfully.

What is a code of conduct?

A code of conduct acts as a set of standards, rules, values, and principles outlined by an organization to guide staff on employer expectations from them (employees).

Typically, a well-crafted code enshrines broad ideas in terms of employee behavior, conduct, and norms during the normal course of business. Because individual employee behaviors define broader staff interactions—with each other and with external stakeholders—codes of conduct must mirror the organization’s core values and mission statement.

Types of code of conduct

The types of codes of conduct that employers enact depend on the types of conduct staff within the organization might engage in. For instance, where an organization has no social media presence (a rarity these days, but serves as a good example!), the company might not require codes that govern employee conduct around the use of such media tools. 

Generally, the types of codes that govern employees in an organization build upon the five critical principles:

  • Professional competence
  • Professional behavior
  • Honesty and objectivity
  • Confidentiality
  • Integrity

Based on these five tenets, organizations then create various types of codes that govern individual aspects of their business. The industry, company mission and values, and geographic location of the business may also determine the types of codes introduced. 

  • Various types of codes may define rules around insider trading in a hedge fund.
  • Banks may have codes around fiduciary responsibilities. 
  • Public service organizations may have codes forbidding receipt of gifts over a certain limit from the public.

One code of conduct example pertains to governing ethical behavior. Typically, organizations will govern ethical conduct through an ethical code of conduct, for instance, Starbucks’ Speaking Up code. This lays down the broad framework that defines employee mindset in the workplace. It also provides moral guidelines to help employees make decisions on permissible behavior that matches corporate values. 

Why is having a code of conduct important?

An engineering department has mechanical designs and blueprints to ensure precision and success. Manufacturers rely on Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines to produce the highest quality of goods. And Accounting has Generally Acceptable Accounting Practice (GAAP) to guide them in doing a great job.

At a higher level, think of the code of conduct as your org-level blueprint, GMP, and GAAP combined. Without one, your organization lacks the professional, ethical, and moral principles required to guide your team in making the right decisions in day-to-day operations. 

So, what is a code of conduct at a more granular level? On a cellular level, codes of conduct: 

  • Create a ​​positive work culture. Employees across the organization learn to appreciate each other. The code promotes tolerance and respect among team members, which is essential for a positive working environment.
  • Prevent ethical and legal breaches. Everyone knows what ethical behavior to expect and the legal framework for exercising those behaviors.
  • Provide guidelines for workforce behavior. The code reinforces positive working relationships, including non-discrimination, tolerance, and respect for gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation.
  • Help foster employee success. With a code in place, employers can more easily identify employee lapses, biases, or non-compliance and recommend concrete steps to successfully address the “deviant” actions.
  • Provide stakeholders with an insight into the organization’s values. A Mission Statement and Value Statement tell clients and business partners a lot about the company. However, a well-articulated code of conduct highlights to stakeholders that the company has a robust value-centered work culture ingrained in its DNA.

Things to include in your code of conduct

A good code is an effective one; one that everyone understands, accepts, and follows. Unfortunately, because no two enterprises are identical when it comes to identifying things to include in your code of conduct, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

However, you may draw invaluable inspiration by asking questions such as: What is a code of conduct applicable to my industry? What code has my closest competitor embraced? Must I enforce an ethical code of conduct in my workplace?

Reviewing the answers to those open-ended questions is a starting point for you to develop your unique code of conduct. In general, however, you’ll likely find the following types of elements in the codes of successful organizations:

  1. A broad statement of the organization’s mission and values
  2. Internal guidelines for employee behavior concerning how staff interact with and treat each other that is in line with the core values of the organization
  3. Expected employee business practices, day-to-day activities, and normal-course actions in pursuit of the company’s mission 
  4. Acceptable external behavior guidelines for staff to adhere to when they interact with the outside world (suppliers, business partners, contractors, regulators) 
  5. A prescription for enforcing the code with a clear definition of what a violation means and the consequences that breaking the code entails

More specifically, the following is a list of good code of conduct example contents:

  1. Conducts of acceptable professional behavior
  2. Guidelines on sexual harassment, bullying, and workplace violence
  3. Anti-discrimination and racial tolerance policies
  4. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) guidelines
  5. Acceptable use of social media
  6. Guidelines around internal and external communication (email etiquette, acceptable use of texting and instant messaging, topics/subjects to avoid)
  7. Expectations around protecting and use of company assets
  8. Conflict of interest policies
  9. Employee rules around giving and accepting gifts from external parties (clients, suppliers, bidders for company contracts)  

Codes of conduct typically emanate from the highest-ranking officer in the company, e.g., the CEO or the Chairperson of the Board. And while some of the things you’ll include in your code may sound punitive, it’s important for the communicating executive team to underscore the positive aspects that the code promotes—respect among colleagues, a tolerant and nurturing workplace, confidence among stakeholders, trust with customers and regulators. 

9 effective tips for developing a code of conduct

A code of conduct is only as effective as the capacity, desire, and willingness to implement (the org), embrace (staff), follow (staff), and enforce (org) it. However, organizations must specifically design codes to accomplish those objectives. Here are some tips for doing so: 

  1. Understand the company’s culture and values, and craft codes to match them.
  2. Undertake a broad consultative process with all impacted stakeholders.
  3. Make it easy to comprehend by avoiding needless jargon and complex statements. 
  4. Ensure legal compliance with all applicable laws. 
  5. Follow company imaging and branding closely.
  6. Conduct regular employee training sessions about what is a code of conduct and how it impacts their behavior.
  7. Make use of inclusive, neutral language and notations. 
  8. Communicate the code with a wide audience, including internal (staff, unions, employee advocacy groups) and external (clients, suppliers, business partners) parties. 
  9. Good codes of conduct have built-in mechanisms for reporting and dealing with non-compliance. Include mechanics for redressing staff grievances if they believe compliance measures are too punitive or unfair.

A Call to Action – Implementing Your Code of Conduct Today 

An effective code of conduct reflects an organization’s culture and values. Over time, unless there are formal ongoing training and educational programs in place, employees tend to either take the code for granted or forget or ignore its core principles. Now you can train, educate and upskill your workforce with our solutions and ensure your company culture reflects your corporate brand and values.