Prevention and management of unprofessional behaviour among adults in the workplace: A scoping review

PLoS One. 2018 Jul 26;13(7):e0201187. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0201187. eCollection 2018.


Background: Unprofessional behaviour is a challenge in academic medicine. Given that faculty are role models for trainees, it is critical to identify strategies to manage these behaviours. A scoping review was conducted to identify interventions to prevent and manage unprofessional behaviour in any workplace or professional setting.

Methods: A search of 14 electronic databases was conducted in March 2016, reference lists of relevant systematic reviews were scanned, and grey literature was searched to identify relevant studies. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies that reported on interventions to prevent or manage unprofessional behaviours were included. Studies that reported impact on any outcome were eligible. Two reviewers independently screened articles and completed data abstraction. Qualitative analysis of the definitions of unprofessional behaviour was conducted. Data were charted to describe the study, participant, intervention and outcome characteristics.

Results: 12,482 citations were retrieved; 23 studies with 11,025 participants were included. The studies were 12 uncontrolled before and after studies, 6 controlled before and after studies, 2 cluster-randomised controlled trials (RCTs), 1 RCT, 1 non-randomised controlled trial and 1 quasi-RCT. Four constructs were identified in the definitions of unprofessional behaviour: verbal and/or non-verbal acts, repeated acts, power imbalance, and unwelcome behaviour. Interventions most commonly targeted individuals (22 studies, 95.7%) rather than organisations (4 studies, 17.4%). Most studies (21 studies, 91.3%) focused on increasing awareness. The most frequently targeted behaviour change was sexual harassment (4 of 7 studies).

Discussion: Several interventions appear promising in addressing unprofessional behaviour. Most of the studies included single component, in-person education sessions targeting individuals and increasing awareness of unprofessional behaviour. Fewer studies targeted the institutional culture or addressed behaviour change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Professional Misconduct*
  • Workplace

Grant support

SES is funded by a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Translation and the Mary Trimmer Chair in Geriatric Medicine (University of Toronto Department of Medicine); ACT is funded by a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Synthesis. This project was funded by the Department of Medicine, University of Toronto to SES. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.