Society is undergoing a period of introspection and breaking down barriers that prevent cultural understanding—and the modern workplace is leading the charge. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, people are looking to their employers to implement positive changes and respond to inequality, discrimination, and harassment.
HR leaders have the tools to promote an inclusive, diverse, and healthy work culture in partnership with other stakeholders. By moving the dial, HR can impact not just an organization and its employees, but society at large.
One of the ways that HR leaders can promote cultural safety is by developing, implementing, and enforcing a company code of conduct. While no federal or state laws specify the need for one, creating a code of conduct and communicating it effectively is one of the main ways for HR to foster cultural safety in the workplace.
According to ECI, a code of conduct:
- Clarifies an organization’s mission, values, and principles
- Serves as a benchmark against which individual and organizational performance can be measured.
- Acts as a central guide and reference for employees.
The critical role a code of conduct plays in developing cultural safety
A code of conduct offers a single source of truth communicating an organization’s culture and ensuring compliance, providing an opportunity to go deeper into your company’s values, identify risk areas, and address issues before they arise.
Some things to include in your code of conduct are:
- A statement of the organization’s ethics and values
- Physical and mental health and safety policies, with resources for employees seeking assistance or support
- A statement of your organization’s diversity and inclusion policy, with a focus on supporting individual expression and maintaining fair employment practices
- A clearly-stated zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence and harassment
- Disciplinary policies for any employee in contravention of the code of conduct
- A commitment to confidentiality and nonretaliation for any employee lodging a complaint
Simply writing a code of conduct won’t necessarily contribute to cultural safety. Rather, how it is written, communicated, and enforced will be of far greater importance—and this is where HR can help. By facilitating communication between employees and management, HR is in a position to optimize an organization’s code of conduct for improved compliance, cooperation, and productivity.
10 ways for HR to make an impact with a code of conduct
- Provide in-person education about the code of conduct to all staff on a regular basis. Opportunities to communicate policies include during training sessions, personnel meetings, office meetings, and group discussions.
- Develop the code of conduct in partnership with employees from across all levels of the organization. Collaboration will enhance compliance by creating a sense of shared responsibility and ownership over company culture.
- Clearly communicate the code of conduct to employees and managers, including potential disciplinary actions in written collateral. You can include the code of conduct in:
- Hiring and onboarding documentation
- Print posters for maximum visibility
- Internal company newsletters
- Manager training manuals
- Ensure that managers and supervisors understand their responsibility to provide a culturally safe work environment, including instituting an open-door policy for any staff seeking to report an incident. Employees should be encouraged to approach managers with any concerns or complaints, and managers should be available to employees as needed.
- Ensure that all employees understand the policy and procedures dealing with harassment, ethics violations, and other incidents that make them feel unsafe. Include these anti-bullying policies in the code of conduct and communicate them during employee and manager training. You can also make this information available via other channels, including internal newsletters or online surveys and quizzes for employees.
- Codes of conduct must be applied to everyone equally, including managers and supervisors. Consider having all personnel sign their commitment to upholding the code of conduct. It is also a good idea to institute more advanced codes of conduct for managers and other individuals higher up on the office hierarchy.
- Promptly handle all reports or complaints of harassment or inappropriate speech/behavior. This means listening to the employee, involving relevant stakeholders, for example, higher-level managers and HR investigators, and swiftly determining what disciplinary action will be taken. Unless the code of conduct is enforced, it will be a hollow gesture that will not contribute to workplace culture.
- Make sure your company’s anti-retaliation policy is upheld. Beyond protecting employees from retaliation, it is important to provide support to any individual reporting an incident. If employees don’t feel safe enough to report, then the code of conduct isn’t fulfilling its purpose.
- Be clear about microaggressions. Discrimination and sexism often manifest in subtle ways so take steps to eliminate these less obvious but more insidious harms. Social media, inappropriate jokes, inflammatory political discussions, and discriminatory interactions in informal settings can impact the cultural values of an organization.
Since it can be difficult to articulate what constitutes a microaggression, consider navigating this ambiguity with regular sensitivity training exercises for employees and managers. Giving employees the opportunity to speak openly about microaggression is another way to clarify your organization’s code of conduct—open communication will create an environment where employees feel safe and respected.
- Monitor and revise your code of conduct’s policies and programs on a regular basis to ensure that it is still effective for your workplace. This includes having employees sign off on the updated code of conduct, seeking legal review and approval of cultural safety policies, and updating your organization’s documentation regularly to reflect the values stated in the code of conduct.
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Developing a comprehensive code of conduct and ensuring that it is effectively communicated and applied empowers employees to do their best work. HR leaders, in cooperation with business management, must prioritize creating a culturally safe workplace so that employees will feel secure and supported, thereby improving retention and productivity. Involving employees in developing and communicating your organization’s code of conduct will further foster a spirit of open communication and instill a sense of shared responsibility for promoting a culturally safe workplace.