By Devon Suits, Army News Service  

Army to target sexual harassment, sexual assault in new command climate survey

An updated version of the Defense Organizational Climate Survey, or DEOCS 5.0, will provide commanders with an evidence-based feedback tool to help them identify and intervene against a variety of areas critical to command climate, including destructive behaviors, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, and associated retaliation.

The Army will incorporate 10 additional questions about sexual harassment and sexual assault reporting climate into all DEOCS surveys, said Michelle Zbylut, director of the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.

The additional line of questions supports a People First Task Force initiative linked to the Fort Hood Independent Review, Zbylut said.

Army senior leaders stood up the task force in December to aggressively address the results of an independent report and restore an Army-wide culture of dignity and respect, according to task force officials.

Like a vehicle's check engine light, the DEOCS is intended to identify risk factors that drive an installation’s or unit's command climate, said Jenna Newman, social science advisor with the Army Resilience Directorate.

The survey is managed and administered by the Defense Department’s Office of People Analytics (OPA), Zbylut explained. The core survey is a collection of approximately 100 questions, with the option to include no more than 10 service-specific questions.

Installation leaders can also include no more than 10 multiple-choice and up to five open-ended questions to target local interests, she added. These questions are selected from a bank of options to ensure the survey's reliability and compliance with DOD policies.

"The optional DEOCS content includes a wide variety of topics, ranging from workplace experiences, professional development, discrimination, to COVID-19," Zbylut said. "The additional questions allow commanders to dig deeper into a given topic area."

Installation commanders are required to conduct a DEOCS upon the first 120 days of taking command, Zbylut said.

Participation in the survey is considered voluntary for all personnel and provides them a safe, secure, and confidential means to submit feedback. The recent update to the DEOCS will allow participants to complete it through their smartphone or tablet, creating more flexibility for anyone who wants to participate, Zbylut added.

"Many individuals in the Army will have taken a DEOCS at some point in their career, but these questions are going to look different from previous iterations," Zbylut said.

A focused survey

To refine the survey, OPA received input from all military branches. The organization also included data and research from policymakers and subject-matter experts connected to force resilience; diversity, equity and inclusion; equal employment opportunity; suicide prevention; and sexual assault and prevention response initiatives.

The process determined a list of crosscutting risk and protective factors that are actionable and relevant to include in the survey.

Several protective factors associated with positive behaviors include cohesion, connectedness, inclusion, leadership support, morale, transformational leadership, and work-life balance, Zbylut said.

Alternatively, risk factors identified in the DEOCS focus on binge drinking, passive leadership, racial or ethnic harassing behaviors, sexually harassing behaviors, sexism, stress, toxic leadership, or workplace hostility, she added.

The opportunity to participate in a DEOCS is typically limited to a four-week window, she said. Once the survey is closed, the results are generated within 72 hours and sent to the local administrators, the commander, and the commander's supervisor.

Using the survey's findings, commanders should develop an action plan to address areas of most concern, she added.

"A commander may try to dive deeper into some areas based on what they see in their report. For instance, they might go out and conduct additional focus groups or interviews," Zbylut said. "If the survey revealed a more serious issue, such as findings of sexually harassing behaviors, the commander will need to work with subject-matter experts."

10 questions

The 10 additional Army-only questions -- five about sexual harassment and five about sexual assault -- will allow the Army to assess a command's reporting climate and see how leaders are actively discouraging or, by not actively discouraging, contributing to a permissive command climate surrounding those behaviors, Newman said.

"The survey can only help [commanders] if [they] are willing to listen to the answers and do something with the information," Zbylut said. "The DEOCS is just one tool … and it doesn't replace speaking with Soldiers one on one. However, it can help steer the conversation, or show things that are brewing before they become a larger issue."

These questions have appeared on previous versions of DEOCS, which will provide the Army with historical comparisons and the ability to examine trends over time, Zbylut said.

"To make this survey work, it's important that people participate," said Newman, adding that the past issues at Fort Hood potentially speak to a larger issue throughout the Army. “To truly understand the scope and contours of these issues, we need to hear from as many people as we can -- voluntarily, of course."