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Using a Code of Conduct to Build Trust in the Workplace

How to Deveop an Ethical Culture in Your Organization

Trust is important in all relationships. Can it be further developed in your work setting? Yes and one way to do so is to develop a code of ethics.

A purposeful business code of conduct establishes an atmosphere of commitment in an organization. It not only lays down a strong cultural foundation for the business, but also helps companies enforce and implement legal as well ethical policies and procedures for all kinds of decision making. A purposeful code can build trust between the organization and a variety of stakeholders affected by its actions including employees, suppliers, customers, and the general public. An effective code of conduct establishes the values of the organization that drives its actions and the principles that underlie decision making.

The business code of conduct becomes the most important part of the companies 'ethical framework.' A business code of conduct is a 'rule book/guide' that contains all do's and don'ts from legal as well as ethical point of view and act as check list on what companies as well as employees can and must enter into. The main purpose of the conduct code is to act as a detailed description of what is the most legal and ethical behavior expected out of the business.

A few advantages of having a business code of conduct are:

  • It enhances the company's core values, beliefs and sets the right culture
  • Gives a vision and a mission to the company
  • Builds a reputation of the company in the market
  • Keeps the company and its employee's  from violating laws and regulations
  • Fosters an environment of trust and ethical behavior

A business code of conduct should never be thought of as a burden to the company. In-fact it is the ground on which the company sets its foundation and the better the code of conduct and its implementation, the better the company will do in the market. This rule book also keeps the business on track as it is directly linked to their decision making skills.

Perhaps the most important consideration in developing a code of conduct is to assure that all employees have a general knowledge, at least, of the code’s contents and intention. Oftentimes this means more than just posting it or filing it away never to be seen or discussed again. Organizations that truly seek to instill the ethical practices in the code must do more. Successful codes enable employees to see just how the provisions relate to their practices in the workplace, and ethical training sessions are the best way to accomplish this goal. An effective code also addresses what to do if an employee believes someone in the organization is violating the code.

Here is what your organization can do to create a more effective code:

  • Consider an annual companywide retreat at the department level. Each department would prepare a presentation for fellow workers about what a part of the code means in that department and what needs to be done differently in the future.
  • Role-playing can engage employees and get them to identify with the code. Role-play scenarios would depict relationships and dilemmas that might arise in the workplace and how they should be handled.
  • Prepare a website for confidential access by all employees. There needs to be a way to report wrongdoing and violations of the code in an anonymous manner. Some companies use hotlines; others have an ombudsman.
  • Appoint someone to oversee compliance with the code to ensure employees their concerns will be taken seriously. In some organizations there is a vice president of business conduct or ethics, and in some the human resources department takes care of these matters.
  • Find ways to reward departments that put their ethical principles into practice. Develop a system to reward ethical behavior and punish unethical conduct.

Doing the right thing is, in one sense, its own reward. However, in a business environment there must be more to the ethical goals of the organization. There is an old adage in business that if you want to achieve certain behaviors you should reward them.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 14, 2011