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Research Questions

  1. What were community members' perceptions of their well-being?
  2. What needs were associated with their sole or most significant (or "top") type of past-year problem?
  3. What were the help-seeking behaviors of the individuals with needs for their top past-year problem?
  4. What was the general community level of awareness of and attitudes toward resources?
  5. What factors were associated with unmet needs?
  6. Were attitudes toward the military associated with perceived well-being, unmet needs, or difficulty finding out about military resources?
  7. Which demographic subgroups and locations may have had a greater need for outreach or assistance?

Airmen, their families, and Air Force civilian employees face a range of personal and work-related challenges. To assist Air Force leaders and service providers in identifying the needs of their communities and prioritizing efforts to address them, the Air Force sponsored the 2017 Air Force Community Feedback Tool—a self-reported needs assessment of Air Force community members. The holistic approach asked participants about such issues as military practices and culture, work-life balance, and health and well-being (all chosen as top problems in the past year). The survey also asked about help-seeking behaviors, experiences with military and nonmilitary resources, and attitudes toward military resources and military life in general. A minority of those who reached out to resources had unmet needs, and survey responses suggested avenues to address these and other challenges. More than 88,000 active, guard, and reserve airmen; spouses of airmen; and Air Force civilian employees responded to the survey between August and October 2017. This report synthesizes results across the Air Force and draws lessons from the findings.

Key Findings

Most community members reported facing challenges in the past year

  • The most prominent types of problems were related to military practices and culture, work-life balance, and well-being.
  • Specific issues that stood out across these types were perceptions of poor leadership, challenges managing competing commitments, finding enough time for self-care, and problems with sleep and stress.

On average, on about two to three days in the previous month, poor mental or physical health kept community members from their usual activities, such as self-care, work, or recreation.

Substantial minorities did not need assistance with their top problems, but some who did and sought assistance had unmet needs

  • The most commonly cited needs were for additional information; advice, coaching, or education; and emotional or social support.
  • Overall, 58% of Air Force personnel who contacted someone for assistance with their top problem reported having unmet needs, despite reaching out.
  • Airmen and civilian employees who reported working 50 or more hours per week and the spouses of airmen who bear a similar workload appear to be particularly vulnerable to having unmet needs.
  • Personnel and spouses who reached out to military mental health care providers or military religious or spiritual resources were among those most likely to indicate that such resources helped greatly.

Many reported discomfort using or difficulty finding out about military resources

  • For both airmen and spouses, the measure of discomfort using or difficulty finding out about military resources was associated with lower satisfaction with military life and treatment of families.


  • Pay special attention to challenges associated with the top three most frequently reported types of problem that the community felt mattered most: military practices and culture, well-being, and work-life balance.
  • Promote creative peer-to-peer information sharing about available resources, such as self-made videos, Instagram challenges, poster design contests, or local scavenger hunts that involve locating different resources or providers.
  • Consider improvements in Air Force management of workload to improve conditions for units with persistently heavy workloads.
  • Mine existing workload and manpower data to identify where personnel may need relief in terms of schedules, tasks, and staffing.
  • Address sleep-related challenges through multiple avenues because reasons for insufficient or poor-quality sleep can vary.
  • Promote communitywide efforts to improve sleep hygiene, time management, and stress management through such strategies as screening, coaching, instruction, apps, and information campaigns.
  • Educate line leaders on the value of sleep and how to address cultural and environmental barriers to healthy sleep.
  • Ensure health care professionals are educated on how to screen for, prevent, and treat sleep disorders.
  • Given the outreach preferences community members expressed, facilitate opportunities to opt in or subscribe to having announcements about programs and services sent to personal email addresses. This may be particularly useful for reaching guard and reserve members and Air Force spouses.
  • Conduct follow-on efforts to better understand perceptions of poor leadership and whether there are issues that should be channeled to organizations that manage professional development, career assignments, promotion decisions, or leadership screening and selection processes.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the commander of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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