Understanding the workplace culture of a special care nursery


  • Valerie J. Wilson MN BEdSt RN RSCN,

  • Brendan G. McCormack DPhil BSc PGCEA RGN RMN,

  • Glenice Ives RN DHNWM DipAppSc BAppSc MEdSt PhD

Valerie J. Wilson,
School of Nursing,
Monash University,
McMahons Road,
Victoria 3199,
E-mail: valerie.wilson@med.monash.edu.au


Aim.  This paper presents findings from the first phase of a research study focusing on implementation and evaluation of emancipatory practice development strategies.

Background.  Understanding the culture of practice is essential to undertaking effective developments in practice. Culture is a dominant feature of discussions about modernizing health care, yet few studies have been undertaken that systematically evaluate the development of effective practice cultures.

Method.  The study intervention is that of emancipatory practice development with an integrated evaluation approach based on Realistic Evaluation. The aim of Realistic Evaluation is to evaluate relationships between Context (setting), Mechanism (process characteristics) and Outcome (arising from the context-mechanism configuration). This first phase of the study focuses on uncovering the context (in particular the culture) of the Special Care Nursery in order to evaluate the emancipatory practice development processes and outcomes. Data collection methods included survey, participant observation and interview. Cognitive mapping, constant comparative method and coding were used to analyse the data.

Findings.  Four key categories were identified: Teamwork, Learning in Practice, Inevitability of Change and Family-Centred Care and collectively these formed a central category of Core Values and Beliefs. A number of themes were identified in each category, and reflected tensions that existed between differing values and beliefs within the culture of the unit.

Conclusion.  Understanding values and beliefs is an important part of understanding a workplace culture. Whilst survey methods are capable of outlining espoused workplace characteristics, observation of staff interactions and perceptions gives an understanding of culture as a living entity manifested through interpersonal relationships. Attempts at changing workplace cultures should start from the clarification of values held among staff in that culture.