Code of Conduct

From Sustainability Methods
Type Team Size
Collaborative Tools Software Personal Skills Productivity Tools 1 2-10 11-30 30+

What, Why & When

What: The Code of Conduct is a written statement used in different circumstances to formalize the working procedures and expectations of individuals in a specific team. "A code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the norms, rules, and responsibilities or proper practices of an individual party or an organisation (Wikipedia)."

Why: It is oftentimes used in companies to set out certain rules and the respective responsibilities of their employers and employees and can be used to hold both accountable for their actions. It is usually laid out in a written format.

When: Ideally a Code of Conduct is created before the intentional formation of a specific team. This helps to explicitly clarify the expectations, roles and responsibilities of each individual. As many organizations change over time this Code of Conduct should be iterated frequently to prove if it still fits the purpose of the team. Long term working environments benefit the most from a Code of Conduct (e.g. PhD-Supervision, Work in an association, Employee contracts, long term student assistants, long term group work)

Caution As the creation and maintenance of a formalized code of conduct takes a lot of time and effort, it is questionable if it is needed for every form of group endeavour (e.g. group essays, non-regularly meetings). However, it is still valuable to think in terms of code of conducts as every individual should be held accountable for their actions.


A Code of Conduct provides clear Statements on how individuals want to work together in a specific organization. The Goal of the Code of Conduct can be summarized under the following three aspects: (1) Unity (2) Standards (3) Direction

1. Unity: Certain ethical rules should be abided by everyone (e.g. letting everyone be heard, respecting each others arguments, being accountable)

2. Standards: It should be clarified what the ethical standards and procedures within an organization should be in order to provide every individual with explicit procedures on how to behave.

3. Direction: Should provide each individual about the purposes and goals of the organization to provide guidance on each respective role within that collective endeavor.

Getting started

The creation of a Code of Conduct should incorporate two aspects. (1) The topical points (2) procedural points

1. Topical points to include in your Code of Conduct

  • ethical principles - includes workplace behaviour and respect for all people
  • values - includes an honest, unbiased and unprejudiced work environment
  • accountability - includes taking responsibility for your own actions, ensuring appropriate use of information, exercising diligence and duty of care obligations and avoiding conflicts of interest
  • standard of conduct - includes complying with the job description, commitment to the organisation and proper computer, internet and email usage
  • standard of practice - includes current policies and procedures and business operational manual
  • disciplinary actions - includes complaints handling and specific penalties for any violation of the code.

2. procedural points for creating and iterating your Code of Conduct

Make sure everyone within the organization is able to express their opinion on roles, responsibilities and expectations. These questions could help for starting an open discussion about organizational values and how to formalize them:

  • What does ethics mean to you?
  • How effectively does the business put its values into practice?
  • Can we improve our ethical performance?
  • What do you think of the draft ethical guidelines?
  • Would this code of conduct help you make decisions?
  • How could it be more helpful?
  • Is there anything else we should include?

(Based on Queensland Government Article, see link below)

Links & Further reading

Youtube Videos:

Quick youtube explanation of a code of conduct

Use of code of conducts


Important aspects of a code of conduct

Guide to writing a code of conduct

Pro's and Con's of a code of conduct

Peer Reviewed Articles:

Rezaee et al. (2001): Ethical Behavior in Higher Educational Institutions: The Role of the code of conduct

Doig & Wilson (2002): The Effectiveness Of Codes Of Conduct

The author of this entry is Julius Rathgens.