Unprofessional behaviours experienced by hospital staff: qualitative analysis of narrative comments in a longitudinal survey across seven hospitals in Australia

Antoinette Pavithra*, Neroli Sunderland, Joanne Callen, Johanna Westbrook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Unprofessional behaviours of healthcare staff have negative impacts on organisational outcomes, patient safety and staff well-being. The objective of this study was to undertake a qualitative analysis of narrative responses from the Longitudinal Investigation of Negative Behaviours survey (LION), to develop a comprehensive understanding of hospital staff experiences of unprofessional behaviours and their impact on staff and patients. The LION survey identified staff experiences and perceptions related to unprofessional behaviours within hospitals. Methods: Two open-ended questions within the LION survey invited descriptions of unprofessional staff behaviours across seven hospitals in three Australian states between December 2017 and November 2018. Respondents were from medical, nursing, allied health, management, and support services roles in the hospitals. Data were qualitatively analysed using Directed Content Analysis (DCA). Results: From 5178 LION survey responses, 32% (n = 1636) of participants responded to the two open-ended questions exploring staff experiences of unprofessional behaviours across the hospital sites surveyed. Three primary themes and 11 secondary themes were identified spanning, i) individual unprofessional behaviours, ii) negative impacts of unprofessional behaviours on staff well-being, psychological safety, and employee experience, as well as on patient care, well-being, and safety, and iii) organisational factors associated with staff unprofessional behaviours. Conclusion: Unprofessional behaviours are experienced by hospital staff across all professional groups and functions. Staff conceptualise, perceive and experience unprofessional behaviours in diverse ways. These behaviours can be understood as enactments that either negatively impact other staff, patients or the organisational outcomes of team cohesion, work efficiency and efficacy. A perceived lack of organisational action based on existing reporting and employee feedback appears to erode employee confidence in hospital leaders and their ability to effectively address and mitigate unprofessional behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Article number410
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • unprofessional behaviour
  • Australia
  • Hospital
  • employee well-being
  • reporting
  • whistleblowing
  • organisational culture
  • culture change
  • patient safety
  • employee satisfaction
  • psychological safety climate


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