Why an effective Code of Conduct can save you a lot of trouble

As business owners and employers, we’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced that euphoric high you feel when you find ‘the one’ from the piles of resumes and endless hours spent interviewing.

The hope and enthusiasm you feel on their first day, like everything will be okay now that they’ve arrived. And then, as if out of nowhere, they do something that conflicts with your values and the values of your business and suddenly you’re at a crossroads. That high quickly disappears and instead you’re left feeling confused and disappointed, wondering where it all went wrong.

So where did it all go wrong exactly? Was your recruitment process flawed and you failed to notice that this person was a bad egg? Perhaps. Often though, the answer lies in the discrepancy of expectations that weren’t discussed or set from the start.

It’s easy to assume that your employees will know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour at work without you having to spell it out for them, but in reality, that isn’t always the case.

Setting the scene for new employees and ensuring your entire team is aware of the businesses’ expectations of them is easier than it may seem, through the development of a Code of Conduct.

A Code of Conduct is essentially a set of guidelines that outline what an acceptable standard of behaviour and conduct is for how employees should interact with one another, with customers and with anyone else they deal with as they go about fulfilling the responsibilities of their job.

Three key things it should include are:

  • who the Code applies to;
  • acceptable guidelines of behaviour and conduct; and
  • what happens from a disciplinary point of view when the Code is breached.

An effective Code of Conduct should be easy to read. This means keeping the language simple and keeping it brief – you want your employees to actually read and understand it. We’re not sure about you, but our guess is that no one will read 80 pages of lengthy policies so we suggest sticking to around 4-5 pages.

The Code of Conduct is often one of the first things that a new employee will read about your business so it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Whilst summarising your expectations and key employment policies, it should also help to communicate the culture of your business and set the tone for what it’s like to work there, so be sure to keep it relevant to your brand. The best Codes we’ve seen have all been written in a positive voice and speak to the culture of the brand they represent so be sure yours is written in the same tone used to normally communicate within your business.

One of the key advantages of having a Code of Conduct in place is that it can help make life simpler down the track by helping you effectively manage the performance of your team. There will be far less grey area to contend with regarding acceptable versus unacceptable behaviour because your employees will know when they’ve crossed the line and expect that their performance will be managed accordingly. It provides a clear point of reference to benchmark performance against and makes the process much more transparent and consistent for everyone.

It can also be very handy in helping to mitigate risk to your business in the event that an employee makes an unfair dismissal claim against you. One of the key reasons someone may claim that their dismissal was unfair is due to them not clearly understanding that their behaviour was unacceptable in the first place.

The recent Fair Work case involving Linfox highlights this point well. As recently discussed in SmartCompany, Linfox lost an unfair dismissal appeal against an employee who made remarks about the company on Facebook. A key reason the appeal was lost was because the company didn’t have a clear stance on the use of social media and also that the employee did not know that what they were doing was considered to be unacceptable.

Having performance expectations clearly written down and communicated to employees in a Code of Conduct means that they will be much less likely to pull the “I didn’t know” card.

Finally, there’s no point having a Code of Conduct if your employees don’t know about it! So make sure you communicate it well. For new employees, we suggest sending it with their contract, and including the key content for discussion in their induction. As time goes on, keep it fresh and up to date and communicate any changes to the Code as they occur.

Setting expectations up from the start with a Code of Conduct will mean that your relationship with ‘the one’ (employee that is) is more likely to be everything you hoped it would be and you can both work together ‘happily ever after’.

Janelle McKenzie and Abiramie Sathiamoorthy are the co-founders of E&I People Solutions. Janelle has a hands-on background in HR, her philosophy is all about providing practical solutions that offer businesses real value. Abiramie has worked with a range of different businesses to set up or enhance their people processes with an end goal to help create high-performing teams.



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