What Sustains An Ethics Code?

  • It’s specific. Guidelines are explained clearly using common scenarios.
  • It’s thought-provoking. Employees are taught how to analyze situations and make good choices.
  • It’s clear. Legalese, vagueness, jargon, and platitudes are absent. Instead of saying “Avoid improper use of equipment,” explain precisely what is meant with examples and unambiguous language.
  • It’s readable. One should not need a user’s guide to wade through its provisions. Improve readability with wide margins, large type, breakout quotes, tight editing, and accurate proofreading.
  • It’s concise. The entire U.S. Constitution is shorter than many ethics codes. Avoid complex sentences. Translate dense, multifaceted paragraphs into bulleted or numbered lists.
  • It’s realistic. “Absolutely no personal phone calls” is unreasonable. “Accept no gifts or gratuities” is vague.
  • It’s enforceable. All provisions should adhere to union agreements, city or government mandates, departmental regulations, Constitutional rights, etc. Implement a process for receiving complaints and investigating charges.
  • It’s flexible. Codes should be regularly put to the test. Make changes as needed.
  • It’s a process. Most employee cynicism stems from senior management flouting ethical rules. A code’s value is not its prose but the commitment of those who implement it.

A code of ethics is important because it clearly lays out the rules for behavior and provides the groundwork for a preemptive warning. While a code of ethics is often not required, many firms and organizations choose to adopt one, which helps to identify and characterize a business to stakeholders.

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