As an organization, you expect your employees to meet a specific standard. You want them to interact respectfully with one another, do their best to fulfill their job requirements, and conduct themselves with a certain amount of professionalism — both inside and outside of the office.

Do you assume that these expectations are common knowledge? Do you think that you and your team have a silent understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable? 

Well, you shouldn’t. Instead, it’s wise to pull these guidelines into a formal document known as your employee code of conduct. 

An employee code of conduct is not only a good idea for your teams — it's a great way to show your values to your customers too. Having a robust employee code of conduct in place, and consequences when an employee is found to be in breach of that code, shows your customers that you care about fostering a positive environment and working against unacceptable behaviour. Customers take this seriously — a Harvard Business Review survey showed that the most significant driver of brand relationships is shared values (64%). 

What is an employee code of conduct?

An employee code of conduct (also called a staff code of conduct) is a set of rules about how employees can and can’t behave during work hours. It shares your expectations for how team members will conduct themselves when they’re on the clock. 

A code of conduct will cover a variety of topics, from harassment or discrimination to dress code or internet usage to your working from home policy

While many codes of conduct cover those staple issues, it’s important to remember that your code of conduct is meant to support your company’s broader mission and values. That means your code of conduct will be unique to your business. 

What is the difference between a code of ethics and a code of conduct?

Many people use the terms “code of ethics” and “code of conduct” interchangeably, but they are indeed two different things. However, you may often find that they’re both included together in a company’s employee handbook. 

A code of ethics is more high-level and spells out your company’s morals and values. As an organization, what do you believe and prioritize? For example, your code of ethics might state that your company treats everyone with respect. A code of ethics may also have guidelines around conflicts of interest, corruption, policies for giving and receiving gifts, and more. 

Your code of conduct drills down even further and shares specific rules and policies that support those broader beliefs. So, using our “respect” example, your employee code of conduct will dig into the details of your discrimination, harassment, and bullying policies and how you respond in those situations. 

In simple terms, think of your code of ethics as your guiding principles and your code of conduct as your instruction manual for living up to those values. 

Who writes an employee code of conduct?

The person or department responsible for writing an employee code of conduct will differ from company to company. In most organizations, the human resources team will pull this formal documentation together.

However, that doesn’t mean they should create this document alone. The most solid codes of conduct are the result of a collaborative process between: 

  • The human resources team
  • Leaders and managers within the company
  • Employees

By sourcing opinions and feedback from across the company, you’ll create a document that’s not only clear but also covers all of the key issues for your organization. 

After all, employees are likely the ones who will have the most insight into what behaviors should warrant some formal guidelines. Plus, when 34% of employees worldwide think that their company doesn’t listen to their ideas to improve the business, including them in this process is a great way to demonstrate that you value their ideas and opinions. 

Why is it important to have a code of conduct in the workplace?

Think an employee code of conduct is more the exception than the rule? Think again. A reported 86% of Fortune Global 200 companies have and use a code of conduct within their organizations. 

These documented guidelines and behaviors are way more than just a formality, and they offer a number of advantages including: 

  • Increased alignment: With a code of conduct in place, everybody in your company knows what’s expected of them. Your code should be given to every new employee you bring on board so they can familiarize themselves with your company’s norms and rules as they get up to speed.
  • Greater consistency: Your HR team will need to deal with a variety of scenarios, and sometimes it’s tough to figure out how to move forward. Your code of conduct should explain disciplinary actions, which means your organization will ensure consistency when handling those situations. It should also keep different types of working in mind so that documents like work-from-home policy guidelines remain consistent with in-office ones.
  • Enforced values: Your code of conduct supports your organization’s broader beliefs and values. We’ve all encountered companies who claim to believe in respect yet foster toxic company cultures. A code of conduct helps to prevent these discrepancies by putting values into action and ensuring that every one of your employees walks the walk.

When it’s done well, your employee code of conduct will be way more than a stuffy rulebook that collects dust in people’s desk drawers. Instead, it’s a living document that shapes the culture and norms of your entire organization — and it’s well worth having. 

How to write a code of conduct

Now comes the big question: How do you write a staff code of conduct? Here are five steps to follow when getting this document rolled out to your employees.

1. Understand what should be included

Keep in mind that your code of conduct will be unique to your company and your team. However, there are some “standard” sections that most codes cover. These include:

  • Your company’s core values
  • Compliance with laws
  • Rules and policies for:
    • Respect (including harassment, discrimination, and more)
    • Use of company property
    • Personal appearance (including cleanliness and dress code)
    • Absenteeism and lateness
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Communication and collaboration
    • Benefits
    • Gifts and entertainment
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Signature page

Those are just the basics. Your own code of conduct might need to dig deeper into things that are important to your own organization (like work-life balance or volunteerism, for example). 

Remember to collect opinions and suggestions from other leaders and employees so that you can hash out an outline for a well-rounded code of conduct. 

2. Create a rough draft

You’ve identified the core elements and sketched out an outline. Now it’s time to add some meat to the document by filling in the blanks and creating your rough draft. 

As you work on this, it’s smart to follow a few best practices:

  • Provide enough detail: The goal of your code of conduct is to answer questions, not inspire them. Make sure you’re providing enough detail with each rule so that employees know exactly what’s expected of them. Examples can be helpful for illustrating what’s acceptable and what’s not. 
  • Pay attention to organization: The structure of your document matters. It’s confusing if you dig into disciplinary actions before you’ve even spelled out expectations. Confirm that your document flows in a logical and intuitive way. A general structure should start with your values and mission, then move to your policies, and then disciplinary actions. 
  • Avoid jargon: The clearer you can make your code of conduct, the better. Be mindful of industry lingo and acronyms and focus on stating things as clearly and plainly as possible. 

3. Collect feedback

When you have your rough draft ready to go, it’s smart to get a few more sets of eyes on it. Ask for some volunteers from across your company — both managers and employees — to carefully review the document.

Their focus should be less on typos and grammatical errors (although, it’s nice if they catch those too!) and more on the content of the document.

As they review your code of conduct, ask them to keep the following questions in mind:

  • Are there any areas that are confusing or could easily be misinterpreted?
  • Are there any sections they think are unnecessary?
  • Are there any sections they think need to be added? 

Those opinions will be helpful as you finalize the document, and hopefully help prevent a ton of questions and confusion down the line. 

4. Deliver the revised version to employees

Once you’ve incorporated those revisions and changes, you’re ready to deliver your finalized code of conduct to all of your employees. 

It should include a place where employees can sign to confirm that they’ve read the code of conduct in its entirety and they agree to abide by those rules. File those signed documents away somewhere safe so you have those records if you need them.

You want your code of conduct to be something that employees can refer to when necessary, so keep it somewhere accessible to your entire team. Additionally, make sure you add a step in your new employee onboarding process for new hires to review and sign this document. 

5. Consistently reevaluate your code

Your code of conduct isn’t a “set it and forget it” sort of thing. Set a recurring appointment on your calendar (quarterly should do the trick) when you can thoroughly review this document and make any necessary adjustments.

Your organization is constantly changing, which means you might need to tweak the language or even add or remove sections.

For example, if your team had to make a sudden shift to remote work, you’d want to add some remote-specific sections to your code so that employees know what’s expected of them outside of the traditional office environment. 

Common pitfalls to avoid when drafting your employee code of conduct

Creating an employee code of conduct can be a challenging task, as there seems to be so many areas to cover and so many details to include. Here are some common pitfalls that often confront managers drafting a code of conduct that you should avoid.

Your code sets the wrong tone

Even if your company's tone of voice is usually fun and easygoing, a code of conduct is still a serious document. It acts as a signpost for your employees, and there is no room for ambiguous language or jokes in its text. Use clear, concise language. It can be friendly in tone, but still firm and directional, to avoid confusion for its readers.

Your code is unrealistic

Be sure to ask yourself if your code is too restrictive, especially as it relates to the nature of your business. For example, if your sales teams are used to developing long-term relationships with clients, but your code restricts them from having client contact outside of business hours, this may prove unrealistic. 

Your code does not provide enough direction

As much as your code is a list of things not to do, it should also point employees in the direction of what to do. When a specific situation arises, an employee should not be confused about which steps to take to ensure they are within the code of conduct. 

Your code is not linked with company culture and objectives

As with every business document, your code of conduct needs to keep your company values at the forefront. These will inform every rule within your code, and will prove useful as a guidepost when you're struggling with what to include.

Your code does not cover the full range of business activities

Be sure to keep every department of your organization in mind when creating your code. From IT to operations, marketing to sales, every function must be included for an exhaustive list.

How to use Wrike to plan an employee code of conduct 

Your code of conduct is important and creating it won’t be a quick task or project. There will be numerous steps and stakeholders involved, and you want to ensure you have those things organized so that you consider all feedback and don’t miss anything. 

The good news is that a project management platform like Wrike makes it easy for you to manage all of your human resources workflows — including the creation of your staff code of conduct. Here’s the gist of how to put together this process in Wrike:

  • Create a new project specifically for your code of conduct
  • Add the tasks that need to be created to complete the code, like:
    • Collect insights from leaders and team members
    • Create outline
    • Complete first draft
    • Gather feedback and revisions
    • Finalize draft
    • Deliver draft to team
  • Assign team members and a due date to each task
  • Set any task dependencies (for example, you can’t complete the first draft until you’ve done the outline)
  • Monitor progress by keeping an eye on the status of each task or pulling a weekly project status report

Wrike also integrates with all of the most popular file storage apps, which means everybody can access your finished code of conduct documentation from within Wrike. 

Ready to get started and ensure everybody within your company is on the same page about what behavior is and isn’t acceptable? Sign up for Wrike today and you’ll tackle your employee code of conduct in a strategic and organized way.