What’s the Difference Between a Code of Conduct and a Code of Ethics?

What's the Difference Between a Code of Conduct and a Code of Ethics?

Ethics expert, Dr. Chris Bauer, explains the difference and makes the case for having three documents: a code of conduct, code of ethics and a values statement.

Many people are confused when they hear references to a code of conduct and code of ethics. They pretty much sound like the same thing. And to many people, they are. But if you really want to influence culture in your organization, experts say you should have both a code of conduct and a code of ethics, and they should be two completely different documents.

You may already have a code of conduct, and you may think this means you’re covered when it comes to influencing employee behavior. After all, a strong code of conduct outlines what is expected of employees, what behavior is encouraged and what is prohibited. It provides a framework for employees to follow, leaving no doubt as to the company’s expectations and the reasons behind them.

But that may not be enough, says Dr. Christopher Bauer, a licensed psychologist as well as a renowned ethics expert, speaker and trainer. Dr. Bauer contends that a code of conduct is only one part of the equation and that if a company is serious about communicating and embracing a culture of ethics, it needs separate documents for conduct and ethics and a strong commitment to enforcing them through training and by example.

Step 1: Make sure your company has a code of conduct. To get started, download the free Code of Conduct Template.

In addition to these two documents, Dr. Bauer also recommends that companies develop a values statement that works alongside the code of conduct and code of ethics to truly entrench ethics into the company's culture. Sounds like a lot of work? It may be, but it's worth it when you consider the risks of unethical company conduct.

Code of Conduct vs. Code of Ethics vs. Values Statement

In this short video, Dr. Bauer explains why a code of ethics and a values statement should be developed alongside a code of conduct to address and influence the ethical culture of the organization as well as simply the behavior that is expected.

Watch the Video