While a code of ethics is a set of principles distinguishing right from wrong, a code of conduct is a set of rules that guides behavior. A professional code of conduct outlines appropriate actions for employees or members, as well as the legal consequences of breaking these rules. Your personal code of conduct does the same as a professional code, but doesn’t necessarily come with legal sanctions for breaking rules.
While a code of conduct is only mandated for public companies, most experts agree that all companies should have a written code of conduct. A good code of conduct in business will be specific and outline the standards by which the entire company is expected to operate.
Sections of a comprehensive professional code of conduct include:
- Company mission
- Purpose of the code of conduct
- Compliance with laws or laws relevant to employee or member rights
- Outline of unacceptable behaviors in the workplace and their consequences
- Outline of internal practices such as dress code, drug use, or sexual harassment policies
- Outline of external practices such as confidentiality and conflicts of interest
- Company and equipment use and protections
- Outline of code compliance expectations
- Training requirements and guidelines
- Job duties and employment benefits
- Chain of command for disciplinary action
Most large companies and organizations share their code of conduct on their website in an effort to be transparent with customers and employees. This helps establish their brand, protect the company, and protect the employees.
A simple example of a professional code of conduct is the one shared by Dow Jones. This example is broken down into nine sections, each with a narrative description rather than bullet points or numbering.
Sections included in the Dow Jones Code of Conduct, after their mission statement and explanation of the code’s purpose, are:
- Confidential Information
- Business Relationships and Activities
- Compliance with Laws, Rules, and Regulations
- Securities Transactions
- Political and Civic Activities
- Books and Records
- Environmental Concerns
- Compliance with this Code
Social media giant Facebook presents their code of conduct on the investor relations page of their corporate website. This is an example of a highly structured professional code of conduct where each section is numbered and includes additional bullet points for easy reading. The company also includes the date it was last updated and offers a downloadable PDF version.
Sections included in the Facebook Code of Conduct are:
- Conflicts of Interest
- Public Disclosures
- Financial Integrity and Responsibility
- Confidential Information
- Protection of User Data and Personnel Data
- Protection and Use of Facebook Assets
- Compliance With Laws
- Reporting Violations
- Policy Prohibiting Retaliation
- Amendment and Waivers
Hygiene and household product company Colgate-Palmolive has a 49-page full-color code of conduct that’s available online in 42 different languages. This example of an extensive code of conduct for a business starts with a message from the president and CEO. Then, it includes three major sections.
The parts of the Colgate-Palmolive Code of Conduct are:
- Our Values and Responsibility: Three sections on values and management
- Our Relationships: Ten sections detailing specific relationships like those with the board of directors or shareholders
- Speak Up: One section on reporting concerns
This code of conduct utilizes charts, special graphics, and concise lists to make all information accessible to everyone.
A personal code of conduct is deeply personal and relates specifically to you, the person writing it. This will be the set of behavior rules you live by, guiding every action you take in life. Try to set behavior standards for yourself that are realistic and flexible. That way, you can actually adhere to them. A personal code of conduct can be written down or it can be something you keep in the back of your mind.
Elements of a personal code of conduct might include:
- How you treat yourself
- How you treat loved ones
- How you treat strangers
- Your expected behavior in professional settings
- Your expected behavior in intimate settings
- How you will react to specific ethical dilemmas
- What behaviors from you are unacceptable in any circumstance
- How you will hold yourself accountable for different actions
Since a personal code of conduct is inherently personal, it can be difficult to find concrete examples. Using examples of morals, start your code of conduct by outlining your personal ethics, morals, and values. Then, assign actions to each of these. This example of a personal code of conduct can be easily altered by anyone.
Conduct Toward Myself
I will not participate in any drug or tobacco use.
I will limit alcohol consumption to no more than 3 drinks in one night.
I will choose healthy snacks over processed snacks.
I will not put myself down for any reason.
I will leave work concerns at work and home concerns at home.
Conduct Toward Others
I will extend kindness to all others, even when they don’t extend it to me.
I will take action to help a person in need if I see their need and am capable of making the situation better.
I will respect differences of opinion by acknowledging the other person’s stance and not pushing their acceptance of mine.
Conduct in Difficult Situations
In a violent situation, I will only retaliate with violence if I am unable to call for or get to help.
If a disagreement turns into a negative argument, I will walk away from the situation.
You can use a personal code of conduct template to get started on one of your own. Refer to the Adobe guide to download and print the code of conduct template below. Plug in the expectations you have for yourself. Then, display the code somewhere in your house that you’ll see it every day.
No matter what type of conduct code you’re using, it represents a set of behaviors and consequences. Aligning your actions with a code of conduct not only protects you legally, but creates a standard of behavior for all who adhere to it and sets the tone for your overall image. For more, explore some examples of core values to decide what is most important to you.