Negative Staff Behaviour in Healthcare

Claudia Gasparini, PhD, Research Assistant Griffith University
GradCertResMgt, (2011-2014), Southern Cross University (2012-2013), BBiomedSc (Hons), Griffith University (2001-2004)

I write this blog from the perspective of a medical researcher that facilitated the LION survey to medical staff in Sydney hospitals.  First and foremost negative staff behaviour or otherwise termed unprofessional staff behaviour is commonplace in many industries not just in healthcare.  However, when it comes to healthcare, unprofessional behaviour takes a step up the ladder and receives much media attention because it jeopardises the quality of patient care putting patients at risk of serious harm.  Unprofessional behaviour can be described on a continuum from mild (e.g. poor or ambiguous communication, lack of responsiveness, public criticism of team members) to moderate (bullying, belittling, discrimination, criticizing, verbal abuse, and ignoring opinions) to overtly inappropriate and serious criminal offence (e.g. verbal and physical abuse, workplace violence, sexual harassment).  Over time if left untreated unprofessional behaviour can fester like an ulcer and infect the core values of the organization, destroying the good reputation and credentials of the staff that operate in the organisation.

Hospitals are complex environments in which to navigate and with complex systems, policies and procedures in place that often cause more confusion and angst than order and structure.  The business of healthcare is sick and vulnerable people and the goal is to help them to remedy their illness and restore health.  Naturally, health care settings are emotion-filled places where people are in distress, losing blood, losing a baby, dying or suffering from chronic conditions and are in pain.  Communication and healthcare-specific emotional intelligence when interacting with patients, families and other medical staff are essential skills that medical staff must master for effective problem-solving, teamwork and complex decision making.  Now as we move into the 21st century and healthcare systems are becoming digitized we will run into technology-induced stress.  In the midst of a digital transformation we will need to look at the impact that technology has on communication patterns.  In particular, communicating remotely or without body language cues and with diverse health consumers with different healthcare needs and cultural backgrounds.

Although it can be useful to examine efforts such as the LION survey and Ethos program which focus on negative behaviours, an equally valid and complementary approach would be to observe positive behaviours.  Recognizing the good things that medical personnel do well in their day to day activities through positive reinforcement and role-modelling will also be of value to building a positive culture based on trust, safety and respect.



Claudia Gasparini

Contributor, Heruka Lifescience & Health Innovations