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I have been tasked with the responsibility of writing a code of conduct for our startup business (we are an established but young company with around 20 employees). I am not a qualified HR official, but I am an employee with a passion for the subject and the capacity to research and learn from other businesses' published codes of conduct. The code of conduct must cover everyone in all departments: directors, sales, marketing, tech, etc.

My question is, when it comes to writing a code of conduct for the company that includes communication and behaviours, how can I make it clear that harassment and 'othering' are unacceptable behaviours, without unnecessarily censuring social behaviours that work well for the productivity and bonding of some teams?

Othering: any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as "not one of us"

Explanatory Background

I have often observed that our sales team operate under a culture that is very different from that of my department (tech). There are many practises and behaviours going on in the sales department that I personally would not find acceptable. One typical example is that the team have a few nerf gun toys in their office and often will shoot each other with nerf gun darts. There is also a lot of chatter amongst the sales team that involves making fun of each other; this might be called "office banter" by some, but personally, I know that I would feel uncomfortable if I was the subject of these jokes or banter.

I am well aware that different individuals have different thresholds of what they consider 'acceptable' when it comes to office culture and behaviour. I think my personality might come across as somewhat 'humourless' to some people, whereas others might share my aversion to nerf guns and banter. My goal is not to impose my idea of a suitable office culture on the sales team: I can clearly observe that they are a functioning and productive team, and none of the individuals working in that department seem uncomfortable or unhappy. What works for them does not work for me (and probably vice versa), but that is fine, and I recognise that a diversity of personality types probably contributes to our overall success and productivity.

  • In the past, I always find out that the employee manual was vague. After reading your post, I realized it is not possible to write a detailed code of conduct because the action of doing something, the intention of the person and how the other person perceive the action are different things. Example: the nerf gun seem to be a team activity but someone can feel harassed if he is always the guy who get shot repeatedly. – Sebastien DErrico Apr 11 '18 at 11:29
  • agreed with @SebastienDErrico - "respect each other" is not something that be improved with details, as details that fit in one team will be booed in another team. – gazzz0x2z Apr 11 '18 at 11:30
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    I do not think it is possible to list all the action that result harassment and othering in a guide. Just how a person drop a file on my desk and the tone that was used to ask me to process the file can be harassment. How this will fit in a guide? – Sebastien DErrico Apr 11 '18 at 11:37
  • I think the main problem here is that it is not clear what interpersonal problems exactly your code of conduct is supposed to fix or prevent from occuring in the future. I would recommend that you identify those goals first and then look for a way to approach them. – Philipp Apr 11 '18 at 12:42
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    What you define as "othering" is actually a typical human response to dealing with someone who doesn't fit in. That's the point of having a company culture, and hiring people who fit in with said culture. People who don't fit in are better off working elsewhere, rather than forcing everyone else to deal with their behavior. – AndreiROM Apr 11 '18 at 12:58
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A code of conduct exists so that your company is communicating the legal minimum for how employees should behave in terms of:

  • Complying with discrimination laws
  • Complying with health and safety laws
  • Complying with data protection laws
  • Complying with any other laws or industry wide practices that are relevant

If you have ever read the code of conduct for larger organisations, you'll find they have very similar content. Your goal is to produce similar content that is often quite broad. You shouldn't build a document that says 'nerf guns are banned', as the sales team will probably laugh and then shoot you with them.

However, if someone is shot with a nerf gun and is hurt (hits them in the eye) or claims constructive dismissal (due to bullying), then the code of practice can be used as evidence to defend the company against legal action, as the company has put guidance in place to mitigate health and safety issues.


Edit: You can find template staff handbooks online.

  • +1 Put differently, the code of conduct is written suitably ambiguous such that employees of all backgrounds, including newbies, know at the minimum what the company expects of everyone regardless of circumstance. Rather, it's the fact that different departmental and personal cultures exist that a unifying code of conduct is more effective than once written because of those differences. – CKM Apr 11 '18 at 13:57

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