The importance of a code of conduct

Table of Contents:

  1. What is a code of conduct?
  2. Why is a code of conduct important?
    1. Help employees report violations
    2. Create uniformity within the business
    3. Boost career development and long-term business growth
    4. Prevent office politics and gossip
  3. What should you include in a code of conduct?
  4. Code of conduct in practice
  5. Code of conduct vs code of ethics
  6. Code of ethics example
    1. Be inclusive
    2. Be respectful
    3. Think before you speak
    4. Be considerate
    5. Do not harass

What is a code of conduct?

A code of conduct is a set of rules, norms, and responsibilities or proper practices of an individual or organisation. While only certain companies are legally mandated to have a code of conduct, every organisation should have one, as they are useful as both internal guidelines and external statements of core values, standards, & commitments.

A code of conduct is also used to encourage conversations about ethical behaviour to help employees learn about and improve their responses to ethical dilemmas, prejudices, and the many grey areas one often encounters in the workplace.

Why is a code of conduct important?

A properly executed code of conduct clarifies an organisation’s mission, values, and principles. A strong impression of professional conduct is communicated to customers and stakeholders, and employees will have a specific guideline for day-to-day business ethics.

If employees aren’t made aware of workplace expectations, how could they ever meet them? If you’re a boss who becomes friends with his employees, will they just know how to toe the line appropriately in the workplace?

Having a structured system that informs employees of workplace norms and practices prevents time-wasting, bad relationships between co-workers, and harassment. A well-written code of conduct will also lower employee turnover rates, which saves significant amounts of both time and money.

Help employees report violations

A code of conduct not only sets out the rules that employees must follow, but also instructs them on reporting workplace violations. Bad behaviour is disincentivised since every employee knows that everyone else knows what warrants disciplinary action.  Examples should also be made of staff who use false information to hide violations.

Should disciplinary action be taken, there is a meticulous process that needs to be followed, including the appointment of a chairperson.

(Link to article about choosing an independent chairperson for disciplinary hearings.)

Create uniformity within the business

A comprehensive code of conduct outlines a proper dress code for employees. Having a clear dress code prevents awkward situations like clients being greeted by someone who looks like they’re about to fly to the Bahamas.

Uniformity significantly improves the professional appearance of a business – an air of organisation and teamwork is imparted before words are exchanged. 

Boost career development and long-term business growth

When employees understand what to do and what not to do – and what the rewards or consequences are for their actions – they are well poised to avoid setbacks and accelerate their careers by achieving the desired outcomes and behaviours.

Prevent office politics and gossip

Virtually every company has its fair share of politics and gossiping, with rivalries between staff and frustration or jealousy that slowly simmers until an inevitable eruption.

Outlining unacceptable communication and topics mitigates nasty office politics, scheming, unconstructive criticism, and bunking. A security-related benefit includes a much lower likelihood of sharing confidential information with competitors.

What should you include in a code of conduct?

While each code of conduct is written on a case-by-case basis, there are certain characteristics that every company can implement:

  1. Easy to understand with explanations of any technical jargon.
  2. Comprehensive, covering any area of work that impacts the daily lives of employees.
  3. Easily accessible to all employees.
  4. Backed and supported by senior management.

Examples of rules that could be included:

  1. No eating outside of the kitchen.
  2. No taking shortcuts through the warehouse.
  3. No equipment owned by the company may leave the premises without prior written permission.

Code of conduct in practice

A code of conduct plays a vital role in establishing an inclusive corporate culture but is not a standalone solution. Ethical workplace cultures are created by leaders who manifest their worldviews in their attitudes and behaviours.

Just reading the code is not enough – a learning process is needed to effectively implement organisational cultures. This includes continuous training, enforcement, measurement, and improvement.

An organisation knows that their efforts have proved successful when employees are comfortable voicing concerns and believe that the business will address their concerns.

Code of conduct vs code of ethics

While the two codes sound interchangeable on the surface, there is a nuanced difference between a code of conduct and a code of ethics (although they are often combined). The former is a focused definition of how employees should act in certain situations, while the latter is a more general idea of the types of decisions and behaviour that are acceptable and encouraged.

A brief elaboration on the code of ethics:

  1. Outline the mission and values of the business.
  2. Inform employees on approaches, best practices, and attitudes towards problems.
  3. Outline the ethical principles of the business and provide any common use-case examples.
  4. State and expand on the standards and expectations of the business.

While violations of corporate rules usually have a worst-case scenario of termination, certain industries (like banking) have their conduct regulated by specific laws that can result in significant penalties or jail time when broken.

Code of ethics example

  1. Be inclusive

Welcome and support fellow staff of all backgrounds and creeds. This includes sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity, culture, class, education, physical ability, and any other identifying characteristics.

  1. Be respectful

We can’t always agree, but there’s never a need to be disrespectful to co-workers. Frustration comes and goes, but letting it devolve into behaviour that harms professional relationships and hinders productivity is highly undesirable.

  1. Think before you speak

Always remain focused on the task at hand and how to go about effectively solving it. This includes social interactions. For example – why make an underhanded remark (perhaps while you’re frustrated) when you know it’s unlikely to produce the desired results?

Thinking about how you can interact with your fellow staff to create a happy, comfortable environment is important, and if everyone did it, maybe there wouldn’t be such a common mental rush to Friday.

  1. Be considerate

Organisations have many moving parts that need to coordinate effectively to function. The decisions of one person can have dramatic consequences on another – consequences that may not be obvious. This is why it’s important to be considerate of your co-workers and keep a line of communication open with those affected by your decisions.

  1. Do not harass

This should go without saying. Harassment in the workplace is completely unacceptable. There is no justification for making someone feel physically or emotionally threatened or harmed. This includes discriminatory jokes, sharing unwanted explicit material, insults, and insubordination.

Do you need help setting up or updating your code of conduct or ethics?

Contact me on: or +27 82 925 0851