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How to write a strong code of conduct for employees

Kaleigh Moore 8 min read
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Regardless of whether you’re managing a team, a department, or an entire organization, your workers need to know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you. Because of that, they need a code of conduct that demonstrates your company rules, the core values of your organization, and the responsibilities of everyone in the company. If you’re trying to create a code of conduct for your company but you don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to look at what goes into creating a code of conduct that ensures everyone is on the same page.

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Why do I need a code of conduct for employees?

A major part of being a good leader is making sure that everyone understands their duties, what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, and how they’re expected to conduct themselves at work. That’s why it’s not surprising that reports show as of 2016, 82% of organizations had implemented anti-fraud controls which included a documented employee code of conduct. The code of conduct lays the foundation that your company’s culture is built upon. It tells employees how they’re supposed to resolve disputes, onboard new team members, and how they can create a positive and comfortable workspace. For employees, the code of conduct should convey what’s expected of them while letting them know leadership’s roles and commitments. Here are some of the objectives your code of conduct for employees should aim to accomplish:

  • Preventing any legal violations in the workplace
  • Building a company culture that values loyalty and encourages employee retention
  • Strengthening relationships with customers, suppliers, and business partners
  • Fostering a reputation for integrity and dependability throughout the organization

Think of your code of conduct as more than just a rulebook. In many ways, it’s a blueprint for creating a company that’s closely aligned with your goals, objectives, and core values. Now that we’ve touched on the basics, let’s look at how you can come up with a strong code of conduct for your organization.

Laying the groundwork for your employee code of conduct

Your code of conduct should be a reflection of your company culture, your operations, and your values. It lays out the principles and practices your business represents and strives to live by. As such, codes of conduct are often tailored to complement the company’s existing beliefs. Just look at Microsoft’s code of conduct and you’ll see how concepts like teamwork, building trust, and creating a welcoming working environment are some of the company’s core values–and everything else is built around those ideas. Before you start creating your own code of conduct, write down some of the principles that influence your organization. Perhaps teamwork is a core component of your company philosophy, or maybe your biggest concern is driving innovation. Find a way to integrate these values into your code of conduct so that employees, executives, and other stakeholders all have a good understanding of what your organization represents and what it’s working toward.

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Creating your code of conduct for employees

There are a lot of things to consider when writing your company’s code of conduct. You want to be thorough enough to avoid creating any unnecessary confusion, but you also don’t want it to be overly thorough to the point that your employee code of conduct is filled with verbose legalistic sentences. You also want to make sure you cover all of the important topics that need to be mentioned in your code–and don’t underestimate just how easy it is to leave out critical information when you’re not using guidelines to help you write your code of conduct. Here are some helpful guidelines that you can fall back on as you develop your code:

  • Avoid jargon: Use simple, concise language that all of your employees will be able to understand
  • Collaborate with other departments: Write your code of conduct with a cross-departmental team comprised of people from different disciplines who can fact check and lend their expertise as you create this document
  • Start off with an introduction: Include a letter from senior management or an executive covering the importance of ethics and the company’s core values/mission statement to help set the tone
  • Procedure for reporting misconduct: Lay out the steps an employee should take when they suspect a peer is violating the company’s code of conduct
  • Scenarios of misconduct: Give examples of unacceptable behavior accompanied by an explanation describing why the action is against company policy
  • Cover areas of risk: List your company’s most important issues and risk areas (for example, if you’re writing a code of conduct for an e-commerce company, your greatest risk area may be information security)

You should also include code topics that are relevant to your company. In Facebook’s code of conduct, many of the topics are related to online communication, sharing confidential information, and protecting user data––all of which are topics that align with Facebook’s services and company culture. Some popular topics you might want to consider using in your own code of conduct include:

  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Personal conduct
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Security
  • Quality of work

You also need to add a section on disciplinary actions as well, so employees know what infractions warrant performance reviews or verbal warnings, and which type of misconduct is grounds for immediate termination. “The thing I see missing most often is clear consequences for the violation, said James Werner, a Certified Financial Planner with over 25 years’ experience in wealth management and personal financial planning. “This leaves the employer in a tough spot. Yes, there’s a clear violation, but now what?” Your code of conduct should make the disciplinary procedure clear, so everyone understands the importance of adhering to company policy.

Add a social media policy

The nature of work and communication is constantly changing, and your code of conduct needs to reflect that change. One way to ensure your code is up to date is by implementing a social media policy that protects your brand’s online presence. An effective social media policy should:

  • Help maintain a consistent brand identity across all official social media platforms
  • Lay out guidelines for maintaining good PR
  • Safeguard the company against security breaches
  • Include provisions for handling a PR crisis or data breach
  • Promote legal compliance

On top of that, you should consider adding guidelines on how your employees conduct themselves on their personal social media accounts. Even in their personal capacity, employees engaging in harassment, hate speech, and threats of violence can damage your brand image and undermine the values your company strives to uphold. For this reason, you should make it clear that this goes against your company’s code of ethics and that they can be held personally responsible for their actions online.

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Turning policy into action

Your code of conduct is written, has been reviewed, and is ready to be implemented. What do you do now? The next step is to create more awareness around company policy so your employees fully understand their roles and obligations. But how should you go about educating your employees on any changes with your code of conduct? Your first step should be to create handbooks covering your code of conduct of employees, then give a handbook to everyone working in your organization. You also might want to consider adding a digital copy of that handbook to your company website, where current and prospective employees can access it anytime they want. If you’d like to see a good example of a code of conduct handbook, check out Starbucks’ Business Ethics and Compliance Handbook for inspiration. Of course, distributing handbooks isn’t enough to ensure that everyone understands your company’s policy. You need to actively educate them on your code of conduct as well. Hold departmental meetings to notify employees of any changes in policy. Meetings are a great way to touch on important topics, answer questions, and address any issues that pertain to the code of conduct. You might also want to consider hosting a yearly ethics training workshop that covers your code of conduct more extensively.

Put your code of conduct for employees to work

Laura Luck, an Australia-based UX writer that works with software companies, has some good advice to wrap things up: “I think a general rule of thumb is that a code of conduct shouldn’t be a straitjacket for your team. Make it easy to read and digest, as this will help with maximum retention. Use illustrations and different media to share it, as this will help those with different learning types and accessibility, too.” The key to writing a successful code of conduct for employees is having it accurately represent your company. That means your code should be routinely updated, especially as new technology is being used in the workplace. A code of conduct that strongly represents your organization will lay the framework of your company culture and serve as the guidelines for pushing your business forward.

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Kaleigh is an experienced writer on all things SAAS at She is a Forbes + Vogue Business retail contributor on her free time.
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