10 Tips for Writing an Amazing Code of Ethics

A values-based approach is one of the best ways to write an amazing Code of Ethics that actually gets read by employees.

Posted by Katie Yahnke in on December 14th, 2017

A code of ethics is more than just a formality. If executed properly, it’s a tool to help employees better internalize core company values and base their behavior and conduct on the principles outlined.

But the question really is how to write a code of ethics in a way that it’s a useful tool and not something you create just to say you did. Incorporate these top ten tips to write an amazing code of ethics.


1. Know what a code of ethics is

You may already have a code of conduct and think that’s enough. However, Dr. Christopher Bauer, psychologist and ethics expert, argues that a code of ethics is needed to work alongside your company’s code of conduct.

Learn more about the differences between a Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct.


2. Get inspired

Corporations such as Apple and Google are under a lot of pressure to act ethically, so they dedicate substantial resources to policy development. Borrow some of their ideas.

Take a look at 18 of the Best Code of Conduct Examples to see what it really takes to develop a great policy for employees.

Your Code of Ethics doesn’t need to be all brand-new material. In fact, most companies share certain standards of ethical behavior and cherish similar values. Let their words inspire you, but tailor them to your own needs.


3. Use a value-based approach

The traditional compliance-based focus to ethics relies on simply obeying laws. It’s essentially the “thou shall not” list for workplace behavior.

These days, a values-based approach is growing in popularity. This method focuses on teaching staff to internalize ethical behavior by understanding values and taking pride in their integrity.

A values-based approach uses a passionate tone that is affirmative and inspirational.


4. Enlist help from employees

Send out a message asking for staff help with developing a code of ethics. Employees have an innate understanding of ethical behavior in the workplace. With or without a formal code policy, it’s often common knowledge what a company values and expects from its employees.

Enlisting help from employees will bring new perspectives to the table. After all, they too will be following this code. Employees may also be aware of staff-level behavior that managers or supervisors aren’t familiar with.


5. Address areas of risk

Areas of risk have the potential to destroy a business, and codes of conduct and ethics both need to identify and place significant importance on them.

Think about specific risks related to the business and industry. Sexual harassment, conflicts of interest, workplace safety and environmental standards are all risks that affect industries differently.


6. Provide an ethical decision-making framework

Part of a values-based approach is providing employees with the tools to internalize ethical behavior. This tool varies based on industry, but most ethical decision-making frameworks have similar steps:



7. Get an ethicist to review

Hiring on professional help is a luxury for some companies without the financial wiggle room, but it’s a good layer of protection.

Instead of hiring on a lawyer, who may only contribute a blanketed legal perspective, an ethicist or human resources professional can look at the culture of the company and advise you better on what you need.


8. Coordinate with other policies

The last thing you need is to spend all this time writing a code of ethics only to have it contradict other policies and confuse employees.

A code’s content will always relate to topics used in the company’s other policies. Coordinate with other key documents to give employees consistent direction.


9. Pretend you’re talking to a friend

Do not get caught up in the appeal of big words and long sentences.

Employees will read one paragraph of the document and toss it in their drawer next to the gifted pins from last year’s staff appreciation party.

Write like you’re having a conversation with a friend – light, easy and straight-forward. Get from point A to point B without touching on everything else in between.


10. Support with resources

Let employees know that they’re not without help. Ethical behavior can be tricky, and guidance is available. Assemble some members of HR or ethics enthusiasts who can be a point of contact for employees with questions.


Katie Yahnke
Katie Yahnke

Marketing Writer

Katie is the marketing writer at i-Sight. She writes on topics that range from fraud, corporate security and workplace investigations to corporate culture, ethics and compliance.

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