KI decides on a code of conduct for all co-workers
A code of conduct for KI employees, is it really necessary? Yes, says the management, which is now requiring everyone working at the university to sign the one it has just recently issued.
The seven-point document summarises laws and regulations relating to the working environment and KI’s own internal rules and guidelines on such matters as discrimination and conflict of interest.
HR manager Mats Engelbrektson calls the code a “clarification” and a pedagogical tool for creating a healthy working climate at the university:
“I don’t think everyone reads all the laws and regulations, but these particular points they’ll be signing and demonstrating their readiness to live up to them,” he says.
The code focuses on showing consideration and respect and on not causing or contributing to discrimination and harassment. There are also items about reporting offensive or discriminatory behaviour amongst colleagues and declaring a personal COI situation.
The decision to introduce a code of conduct at Karolinska Institutet comes after the 2011 employee survey, which revealed a high level of victimisation and harassment. Even though the number of such reports had dropped in 2014 from seven to under four per cent, Mr Engelbrektson insists that more has to be done: “The situation still needs improving,” he says.
Why not target the ones who do the bullying?
“We do that as well. But the better everyone’s behaviour, the better the results.”
Polls by doctoral students a motivator
Exit polls completed by doctoral students on graduating have also been a motivator for the code. One sixth of doctoral students claim to have been victimised or discriminated against at KI. Dean of Doctoral Education Anders Gustafsson is one of the driving forces behind the new code.
“It’s an important sign to all our students that we take action against harassment and discrimination seriously,” he says.
Professor Gustafsson says that a code of conduct is not a magic bullet but one of several important initiatives, including increasing participation on supervisor training programmes and strategy plans to improve departmental environments. For doctoral students, it is often a matter of how they are treated by their supervisors.
“It’s an incredibly tough culture at the university, but I think we’ve done a great deal to change it and that we’re now seeing the results.
The doctoral students’ ombudsman, John Steen, who is employed by the Medical Students’ Union at KI, was engaged in the discussions of a new code of conduct, and was quick to explain his standpoint to the drafting committee.
“It won’t be revolutionary,” he says. “Managers and supervisors already have to be familiar with work environment laws and regulations. The question is how this document will be used,” he continues, adding that it will now be particularly important not to cancel the systematic work being done to improve the working environment just because the employees have now signed a piece of paper.
How will you make sure that the code of conduct is actually observed and not just brushed aside?
“It’ll be embarrassing to brush it aside,” says Mr Engelbrektson. “We’ll continue to work on these situations, making it clearer exactly what the code involves. If someone breaks the rules, it can affect anything from their working conditions to their employment contract.”
Makes workplace requirements clearer
Andreas Nyström, the employees’ SACO (the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations) representative, looks favourably upon KI’s efforts to clarify workplace requirements.
“I don’t think the code of conduct per se will solve any problems, but as part of a larger puzzle in which KI is now making more explicit moves to improve its working environment it’s a good thing,” he says.
The last item of the code concerns disciplinary measures and, in extreme cases, dismissal.
“Employees are already obliged to comply with certain directives, but it’s good to be clearer about their implications,” says Mr Nyström. “If disciplinary action has to be taken, KI, like all institutes of higher education, has a faculty accountability board to deal with it.”
Text: Madeleine Svärd