How To Develop A Code Of Professional Ethics (With Examples)
Updated 21 August 2023
A professional code of ethics provides individuals with a set of guidelines to make good decisions in the workplace. Taking the effort to develop moral standards can foster harmony within an organisation and elevate your reputation among clients and customers.
In this article, we discuss what professional ethics are, why they are important, such ethics in various industries and professions and how to develop ethical guidelines.
What Is A Code Of Professional Ethics?
A code of professional ethics is a set of customs that outline an organisation's mission and values. A page on an employee handbook would often list rules for behaviour to help employees conduct their business with honesty and integrity. A code of ethics acts as a model of moral standards that employees are required to comply with. It ensures that every individual is personally accountable for their actions and their treatment of others.
Employers expect professionals to act in line with these principles, especially when approaching problems or making decisions that have a wider impact on society. People who violate the code of ethics compromise their trustworthiness and an organisation's reputation. It may lead to serious consequences, such as the termination of your contract.
Related: What Is a Conscientious Personality?
Why Are Professional Ethics Important?
Many firms have adopted professional ethics because it is an important tool that establishes rules for behaviour. When structured clearly, it sends out a coherent message to employees about expectations in the workplace. A code of professional ethics acts as a warning, informing people about the consequences when they break any guidelines. A moral statement is also valuable to a company's reputation in society because it is a public declaration of its principles.
Components Of A Professional Code Of Ethics
Organisations set clear guidelines on professional ethics to maintain transparency with key stakeholders inside and outside a business. Here are four key components your professional code of ethics are required to include:
1. Work environment
A code of professional ethics are required to establish the acceptable norms and practices within your organisation's work environment. It helps determine your corporate culture and encourages people to model similar values among their colleagues. By implementing explicit rules and policies, your work environment can be a place of sound moral judgement.
Here are some examples of professional ethics for the work environment:
Professional dress code
Policy against discrimination and harassment
Policy against destructive behaviour, including substance abuse and gambling
2. Conflicts of interest
A conflict of interest occurs when there is a clash between an individual's competing interests or loyalty and the organisation. A code of professional ethics is essential to define the relationships and activities you are required to avoid that could be deemed unfair or damaging to an organisation's reputation.
Examples of conflicts of interest to avoid include:
Significant financial interests in other companies
Running for public office
Insider trading or similar unfair financial practices
Investing in competing organisations
3. Protecting company assets
Whether you are taking care of office equipment or handling sensitive information and customer data, a code of professional ethics compels you to prioritise the organisation's safety and its customers.
Examples of policies to protect company assets include:
Protecting intellectual property
Use of company property
Use of property owned by others
Right to privacy
4. Anti-bribery and corruption
Trust is key to business operations. That is why a code of professional ethics is an effective tool to set clear boundaries on lawful and unlawful behaviour for employees. It ensures you uphold an attitude of honesty and fairness in your day-to-day operations.
Here are some examples of policies against bribery and corruption:
Receiving gifts of significant monetary value
Accepting loans or bribes
Relationships with government entities, competitors, customers or former employers
Professional Codes Of Ethics In Different Settings
Here are some examples of professional codes of ethics in different professions and industries:
Lawyers are bound to a professional code of ethics, regardless of their place of employment, because as guardians of the court of law, it is their professional responsibility to uphold the virtues of fairness and righteousness.
In 1961, India introduced the Advocate Act to institute a regulatory body that would oversee the ethical conduct of those in the law profession. The Bar Council of India framed 39 rules under this law to guide moral practices in the court of law. These 39 rules cover four major areas, a lawyer's duty towards their client, opponent and colleagues and punishment for professional misconduct.
Clear ethical guidelines for lawyers ensure that our judicial system remains reliable and just.
Like lawyers, doctors are also held to a universal code of ethics based on their chosen profession.
The Medical Council of India addresses medical ethics in patient care, consent, a physician's duties, the maintenance of medical records and more. Here is a brief description from the Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences on a few unethical actions that practicing physicians in India are required to avoid:
Physicians cannot advertise their practice, nor can they make formal announcements about their services in the press.
Physicians cannot use a self-photograph for advertising themselves on a public signboard.
Physicians cannot run an open medical shop.
Physicians cannot take rebates or charge commissions to medical suppliers.
Physicians cannot practice euthanasia.
Teachers are role models for their young, impressionable students. They inspire and guide them through their own conduct. Not only do teachers share knowledge, but they also have the power to shape the future as they prepare the younger generation for the actual world. Education has a crucial impact on society; that is why it is important for teachers to follow professional ethics.
Here are examples of major ethical issues in the educational industry:
Collecting illegal fees and funds from students
Disclosing confidential school matters
Taking drugs or alcohol on school premises
Harassing, assaulting or abusing students
Turning up at school premises under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Damaging or stealing school property
Getting appointed based on fake qualifications
Bribing the higher educational authorities
Professional ethics in business informs employees how to act in the face of ethical dilemmas or challenging situations. Some examples of this are:
Confidentiality and privacy policies
As an employee, your duty on behalf of an organisation is to keep trade secrets and protect sensitive information, such as customer data and the company's own propriety data. Some organisations may make you sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect their business interests even after you have left them.
Equal opportunity employers hire, promote and give opportunities to employees based on merit and performance. Most businesses state in their code of ethical conduct that no individual is required to be discriminated against due to their gender, marital status, sexual preference, race, caste, religion and political affiliation. Following these principles in the workplace shows care and compassion. It is your responsibility to treat others the way you want to be treated on a human level.
How To Develop A Code Of Ethics?
Follow the five steps below to help your organisation develop a code of professional ethics:
1. Review your mission statement
Your code of ethics are required to reflect the values of your organisation. It is required to clearly state how employees are expected to behave to manifest the reputation you want to portray among your coworkers and customers.
For example, if your business values compassion, your code of ethics are required to outline how people treat each other, such as using polite language or attentive listening skills.
2. Gather feedback from employees
Ask key stakeholders in your company about their thoughts on professional ethics. Ask them about the values that they believe best represent the business. Also, gather feedback on professional, ethical practices they would like to see improved. Receiving input from various parts of an organisation would inspire coworkers to take greater responsibility when governing their own behaviour.
3. Understand past ethical issues
If you are unsure where to begin, it is best to examine the functions of the business that require improvement. Look for trends of employee or customer dissatisfaction. For example, if you discover that customers require to wait too long to speak to a customer service representative, implement ethical guidelines that target this issue. In this case, your guidelines may suggest that employees speak to clients with respect and care.
4. Learn from other companies
Investigate case studies of what your competitors have done, right or wrong. Look at the principles they have put in place to run their business efficiently. You can choose to emulate their successes and learn from their ethical failures.
5. Share your code of ethics with others
Once you have put together a code of professional ethics for your business, communicate it throughout the organisation. Send a copy to each individual and update your employee handbook to communicate ethical expectations to new recruits. Run training exercises to model ethical guidelines for your colleagues. This would help them understand the moral standards of the company and learn how to act accordingly.
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