Codes of Conduct in these Changing Times


Codes of conduct which are punishment-based are generally drafted based on previous unethical behavior and actions. However, they are not usually updated to evolve with and correspond to rapidly changing sectors and industries. This inability to revise a code regularly may present areas of ambiguity because if the code is silent on a specific behavior or action then employees and managers may assume that it is not forbidden or deemed unethical.  Many codes of conduct being enforced today have not been amended to address technological advances. Some which have been amended are still not aligned with the changing times and still fail to capture many of the emerging categories of malfeasance in modern times. For instance, some codes of ethical behavior and conduct for social workers have not been revised for many years and as such do not include provisions aligned with cyber world and illicit behaviors such as cybersex and cyber-bullying.  Even those codes that have been recently drafted or amended remain silent on realities of the changing times. The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners Code of Conduct of 2011 (Texas Department of State Health Services, 2011), makes reference to sexual contact with clients as a violation, however, as contact is not clearly defined and because it has traditionally referred to a physical action, it may create some ambiguity if cyber-sex comes into play.  Such nebulousness presents a challenge for today’s leaders to enforce and it also presents an opportunity for them to take advantage of these gaping loopholes.

Today’s organizations have the benefit of a vast array of communication media; however, guidelines for ethical conduct are not always clearly communicated by leaders to their employees. When ethical values are properly communicated and supported, they can shape and guide employees in their ethical decision-making (Stevens, 2008). Values, behaviors, and management practices, including human resource management practices, are generally correlated (Florea, Cheung, & Herndon, 2013). Therefore, ethical conduct should be intertwined with employee performance appraisals. Most organizations have some sort of performance management or evaluation system that is linked to a reward system. If ethical conduct is linked to an organization’s rewards system then it could serve as an incentive to exercise ethical conduct. Additionally, it could enhance the organization’s human resource management practice by holding leaders and employees accountable for ethical conduct (Nielsen, 2011).

Today’s organizations have become quite diverse in various ways. Leaders must now understand people of different backgrounds, cultures, values, and perspectives (Lockwood, 2011). This poses a new dimension to leaders’ abilities to embrace their own values and ethics which may or may not be aligned with a code of conduct.  Different generations approach questions of integrity and ethics differently and as such, Lockwood (2011) asserts that a common area of tension among multi-generational workplaces focuses on work ethics and the definition that is given to it. Leaders and employees may have a different personal definition of what constitutes unethical behavior which conflicts with that which is contained in a code of conduct. For instance, those in the traditionalist generation may view the behavior of an employee from the Millenials generation as unethical, because their perspectives are often hinged on their traditional values. Values drive decision-making and as such, leaders may feel conflicted by their own personal values (Lockwood, 2011) and therefore, may become perplexed when called upon to make decisions that are ethics-related.  Therefore, when they are confronted with ethical-decision making, having a code of conduct for ease of reference can be a useful and valuable tool.

Excerpt from academic paper, 6/13

Florea, L., Cheung, Y.H., Herndon, N.C. (2013).  For all good reasons: Role of values in organizational sustainability. Journal of Business Ethics, 114, 383-409.

Lockwood, N. (2011). Business ethics: The role of culture and values for an ethical workplace.In J.S. Osland and M. Turner (Eds.), The organizational behavior reader (9th ed.), 202-211.

Nielsen, R.P. (2011). Think macro, act micro: Finance capitalism and ethics action methods. In J.S. Osland and M. Turner (Eds.), The organizational behavior reader (9th ed.), 186-201.

Stevens, B. (2008). Corporate ethical codes: Effective instruments for influencing behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 78, 601–609.

Texas Department of State Health Services. (2011, August 24). The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners Code of Conduct. Retrieved from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s