Integrating Your Morals into a Corporate Code of Ethics

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When you become part of a corporate culture, it’s not just your technical skills, your job performance, or even your ability to collaborate that becomes important to your employer. Many corporations and smaller companies have a code of ethics, conduct, or behaviour that outlines how they expect their employees to conduct themselves in the workplace, and perhaps even in their daily lives.

Unfortunately, probably as many people read the code of ethics as they do the privacy policy on a company’s website (i.e., no one). According to the Institute for Global Ethics, a code of ethics encompasses “operative beliefs that people of any description can apply in their labor toward a common vision.” If you’ve never seen a document like this, check out the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector, which provides some examples of codes of behaviour on their website.

What does a code of ethics cover?

This type of code provides a template for how the company or organization expects their employees to represent themselves on behalf of the company. It usually includes the following:

Professional behaviour:

How you interact with your colleagues, superiors, and clients is important to a company because you are representing the brand. This could include everything from a dress code, how you communicate with people, and even a caution about using profanity or offensive language.

Accountability:

Companies expect their employees to act with fairness, be responsible for their actions, have integrity, and be trustworthy and honest. The code may also cover areas such as dealing with conflicts of interest or other situations where your ethics may be at risk of compromise.

Confidentiality:

Most organizations insist that you do not discuss, share, sell, or in any way expose privileged information about the company, the work you do, or any other data the company deems as private. Some companies will have you sign a confidentiality agreement, but even if you haven’t signed such a document, it is in your best interest not to divulge information that could harm or impact the company in any way. Many organizations have policies in place to ensure that even after you leave, you don’t compete with them or speak about their practices for a determined period of time.

Discrimination and morality:

How you treat others while representing the organization is important to their reputation. If you discriminate against an individual or you sexually harass or bully someone, that colours the way clients or the public view that organization. It could also leave the organization vulnerable to lawsuits.

Integrating your own morals into the workplace

You may have to sign off on a code of conduct or ethics showing that you have read and understood this document. Some companies have a code, but aren’t that strict at enforcing it. A code protects not only the organization, but also its internal and external stakeholders – that means you. The code of conduct helps insulate you from discrimination or bad behaviour. We all have our own definition of ethics and morals.

We’re not meant to judge the person in the next cubicle because they have tattoos or dress differently; they could be a better person or employee than the guy in the suit next door. Toronto is a diverse city that embraces all background and people from around the world. If you have a set standard by which you judge people, you won’t fit in with many corporate cultures and you will fall short of expectations where the code of conduct comes in.

Sometimes you may go to work for a company that doesn’t have a code of ethics or doesn’t care about being good corporate citizens. What do you do when your own values don’t coincide with a company’s business practices, or the way they treat their employees? This is where you test your belief system against your ambition.

Say you learn the company is doing something illegal or unethical, such as dumping industrial waste in a water supply. Many people are afraid to speak up when they see a company doing something wrong or even when they become complicit in the activity. The term whistleblower even has a negative connotation to many people.

Luckily, most governments and organizations have realized that people who expose corporate wrongdoing deserve to be protected, or even financially rewarded for their efforts. The City of Toronto, the TTC, and many other GTA businesses and organizations have not only a Code of Ethics, but a whistleblower protection plan in place.

How an individual conducts his or her personal life is usually a good indicator of how ethical they will be on the job. If you are someone who practices fairness and acceptance and tries to lead a life where you do more good than harm, don’t let a corrupt work environment take that away from you. There are plenty of jobs in the GTA where the culture is one of positivity and for the benefit of other people. Live up to your potential and your moral and ethical beliefs, and be fearless about it!

Pamela Stewart is a Toronto area freelance writer. She is a former private investigator and investigations manager. She also managed a pre-employment background screening division and currently works part-time with a Human Resources company conducting pre-employment interviews. You can follow her at pamelamariestewart.com.

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