KAREN AUSTIN, CONSULTANT
I spoke to a manager recently who suggested his staff would actually feel patronised and insulted if he and his board sought to introduce a Code of Conduct. The conversations that he and I had about poor behaviour in his organisation leading up to this point concerned me enough to suggest they needed one, but his concern was that it wouldn’t help the situation, and in fact would make it worse. His question to me was, ‘What would it actually change?’ It’s a fair question, and one that we get asked a lot...
So if it is full of rules that are obvious or common sense, why bother having one? The key thing is that without a written statement, many of these expectations on staff remain implied. In our experience, implied in reality means unclear and open to discretion or debate. By having a document that joins up all of your other standards and procedures in one overarching summary you will:
· Create an agreed way of working for everyone and make it clear what will and will not be tolerated;
· Contribute to an open and clear culture where employees know what is expected of them in terms of behaviour;
· Account for the fact that staff may not read all your policies. By reading the Code of Conduct they are likely to still be aware of the minimum expectations on them and are encouraged to read other policies in more detail as a result;
· Support managers when faced with difficult decisions to make, removing the personal from the situation;
· Encourage staff to take responsibility for their own conduct and support them to challenge behaviour from colleagues
· Protect the organisation and individual managers. Where standards are not clear a reliance on judgement or discretion can lead to claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.
A comprehensive Code of Conduct summarises all areas of conduct, from ‘working with others’ and ‘dress code’ to a statement of zero tolerance against violence, bullying and harassment. It should also encourage those who feel they may have witnessed something inappropriate or may have inadvertently breached the code to come forward and seek support. It’s also useful to have a statement at the end that explains the way of addressing suspected breaches of the code of conduct (usually the disciplinary procedure).
In short, there are many positive reasons for summarising and documenting the standards you hold dear in your organisation so if what is stopping you is a concern that staff will oppose such a document, be wary of this. Ultimately it should never be a document that your people fear unless they are concerned that their actions may already be in breach of the implied – or even expressed – terms of their employment.