Concerns about job stress and satisfaction and problem behaviors have circulated within the intercontinental ballistic missile community for some time. Researchers conducted a series of focus groups with 20th Air Force personnel and their spouses, including brief questionnaires, to assess their perceptions about these issues and solicit suggestions for addressing them.
Identifying Key Workplace Stressors Affecting Twentieth Air Force
Analyses Conducted from December 2012 Through February 2013
- What are some potential sources of the problem behaviors within 20 AF?
- What could the Air Force do immediately to reduce or mitigate the problems?
- What continuing investigation is needed?
In November 2012, the commander of 20th Air Force asked the Chief of Staff of the Air Force for assistance in identifying ways to mitigate concerns about job stress and dissatisfaction among personnel in the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) community. The Chief of Staff asked RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) to look into these concerns and provide recommendations to the Air Force in 90 days.
Anecdotal concerns about these issues had long circulated within the ICBM community. There was also evidence of higher rates of problem behaviors within the ranks of the 20th Air Force (20 AF), which operates the nation's ICBM arsenal, than in the broader Air Force. Researchers reviewed the relevant literature and existing data on 20 AF and the Air Force overall; they also conducted a series of focus groups with 20 AF personnel and their spouses, including brief questionnaires. Researchers found that Airmen rated their jobs as stressful but also had an array of specific concerns, in particular about staffing levels, leadership styles, and organizational culture. Airmen also raised concerns about equipment issues and the ICBM lifestyle; for example, many Airmen and their spouses expressed unhappiness with the relative isolation of the bases and the further isolation of being on duty at missile alert facilities, which they considered comparable to deployment.
This research was conducted between December 2012 and February 2013, with findings and recommendations reported to Air Force leadership soon after. Since that time, the Air Force has addressed many of the concerns expressed in this report, including changes that align with several of the report's recommendations.
Some Rates of Problem Behaviors Are Higher
- Some problem behaviors appear to be more common in the ICBM community than in the Air Force overall, including sexual assault, child maltreatment, and partner physical maltreatment.
- Stress and negative attitudes toward the job are two examples of precursors to problem behaviors.
ICBM Job Incumbents Find Their Jobs Stressful
- In all but two of the career field groups (junior-level maintainers and facility managers), participants perceived their jobs to be more than moderately stressful.
- On average, the participants in three career field groups (chefs, operators, and junior-level security forces) were experiencing job burnout.
Manning and Cultural Issues Are Leading Concerns About the Job
- Nearly all participants believed they worked more hours than most Airmen, and nearly all career fields agreed or strongly agreed that they were understaffed.
- Many commented that leadership is not listening to or does not fully appreciate or understand their concerns.
- Other key concerns were the ICBM lifestyle, working conditions, career progression, and being away from home for extended periods.
Some Potential Remedies Emerged
- The strongest levels of endorsement were for better equipment, more recognition from leadership and the rest of the Air Force, more opportunities for advancement, and better upkeep of base and missile facilities.
- Enlisted security forces, the facility managers, and the spouses endorsed better services and support for families.
- Address concerns identified by the ICBM community: Make Air Force specialty--specific changes; address manpower concerns; improve leadership styles and organizational culture in the ICBM community; provide incentives and rewards for ICBM service and modify assignment policies; and improve base services.
- Check for unintended consequences that might occur as a result of efforts to address community concerns. Identify other obstacles that could conflict with the success of these efforts.
- Additional analyses should control for other factors that might affect the data on problem behaviors, such as demographics.
- Develop a larger, recurring survey to confirm (or disconfirm) perceived problems discussed here and to track changes in perceptions over time.
Table of Contents
Context on ICBM Nuclear Enterprise, Environment, and Jobs
Concerns in 20th Air Force and Potential Explanations
Research on Stress, Well-Being, Attitudes, and Perceptions in the Workplace
Identifying ICBM Job Incumbents' Top Concerns: Results of a Questionnaire and Focus Groups
Going Forward — Recommendations for the Air Force
Examples of Workplace
Supplemental Questionnaire Item Results
Example Comments Contributing to the Remaining Discussion Themes