Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

What Is the Biggest Complaint at Work?

February 1st, 2010 | Bob Rosner

Image: Bob RosnerI once ran an online contest asking a very simple question—what is your biggest complaint about work? The responses flooded into Costco.com and were not at all what I’d expected.

I was totally prepared for a ton of responses about low pay, disrespect, poor working conditions, etc. Actually more than half of the responses all touched on the same topic—people who steal food from the company refrigerator. I couldn’t make this up. At first I thought that they’d all come from the same company. But as I read through them I realized they all had different details.

Choosing a winner from all of these tragic cases of lunches lost was a challenge. Until I came across the most painful and pathetic story. This poor person described how her lunch thief not only ate your lunch, but they managed to rub your face in what remained.

She described in painful detail about how her thief opened a box of chicken wings, ate half of them and then carefully put the bones back in the box and resealed the container. Ouch.

Besides being thankful that you don’t have to work with this person, why should you care about this isolated case of cruelty?

Because when it comes to our jobs the big stuff—not getting a big promotion, having a really tough competitor, not feeling like your work is appreciated—fades in comparison to the little annoying stuff like people stealing your lunch. I call it the pebble in the shoe vs. getting hit by a boulder rule. Over time the pebble drives you the craziest.

Don’t believe me? There was another study that asked what is your biggest complaint at work? The number one response? It’s too cold. Wanna guess the second most common complaint? Yep, it’s too hot.

Granted this study was done by the International Facility Management Association, but it does point out that power of the little annoyances can have at where we work.

What is the moral of this story? Management tends to focus on the big stuff in those rare times when it focuses on employee morale. Issues like bullies, food thieves and temperature are not the kind of stuff that most managers think of when they focus on employee satisfaction. Yet these are the very issues that are wearing down your people.

I’m not discounting the big stuff. I’m just trying to shine the spotlight on the little annoyances that have a big impact at work.

Lest you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. I recently saw a remarkable survey from the Conference Board. They asked employees in 1995 if they were satisfied at work. 61% said they were. The survey was repeated recently. The number of satisfied workers has dropped to 45%.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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3 Responses to “What Is the Biggest Complaint at Work?”

  1. Grishnakh Says:

    Temperature is something where you’ll never be able to please everyone. Many Americans are seriously obese, and of course they want it freezing cold to make up for their extra insulation, even if they live in Phoenix and it’s 115 outside. Others get cold easily. Luckily, it’s not hard to put on a sweater or jacket if you’re cold. Personally, I can’t see leaving a job over it; almost every American office is cold, so you’re not going to find a better situation.

    However, I have some other workplace complaints I haven’t seen here.

    1) Cubicles vs. bullpens vs. offices. I’d be much happier with an office, I’d be OK with a cubicle, but a bullpen or open-plan office is a no-go. For some strange reason, they seem to be making a huge comeback however. Employers think that workers need to “collaborate” instead of actually concentrate and get work done.

    2) Bathrooms. Make sure the building you rent has enough of them, and they’re located conveniently. The morons who designed my building put in only one set of bathrooms for our entire floor, which has over 200 people on it (and is partly vacant, it’ll be worse if the remaining spaces are leased). It’s worse in many companies where most of the employees are male. And it sucks having to walk to one end of the building every time I need to go.

    3) Parking. For some strange reason, our building has a huge parking garage, but it’s mostly empty, and most of the employees are required to park on the top deck (which is bad because your car gets really hot in the 115-degree heat in Phoenix). The covered spaces below are all reserved; I’m not sure for whom, because they’re always empty, but we’re not allowed to park there.

    4) Private areas, lounges, etc. Employees need a place to go to get away from everyone and relax for a few minutes. No, a “break room” with bright, bright lights and a TV blaring CNN all day is not relaxing. Also make sure there’s lots of conference rooms.

  2. D Clasen Says:

    “Temperature is something where you’ll never be able to please everyone. Many Americans are seriously obese, and of course they want it freezing cold to make up for their extra insulation”

    I need to correct your thinking here. The problem in building design in the US is that it is cheaper to heat and cool blowing air. This thinking is faulty when it comes to people so the better solution is to heat and cool a person. If you walk outside on a sunny cold winter day against a southern exposure you want to take off your coat. The reason is because of radiant heating effect. The sun is heating objects directly, which include yourself. The air you breathe is actually colder, but naturally your body finds this rather nice.

    For Phoenix, probably you would benefit from radiant ceiling panels. Say goodbye to cold air blowing on your neck.

    The second part of this solution in the workplace is not recirculating stale office air. With radiant cooling and heating the requirements for blowing air is reduced. Now you just bring in smaller amounts of fresh air.

    This is a nice solution, especially when you consider the person with the flu like symptoms next to you now has that air recirculated and distributed throughout your office.

    Of course radiant heat and cool costs more to install, but is more efficient to run. And, for most office spaces the building owner doesn’t pay the electrical bill. Therefore, they put in the cheaper first cost air based system and let the tenants worry about the monthly electrical bill.

  3. D Clasen Says:

    Grishnakh, I do agree with you on offices. Individual and smaller offices are more efficient on energy and allow for more concentration.

    Think about an open office. The lights are all on, some are in conference rooms, some are on vacation or sick and there is a general amount of distractions from activity. Smaller offices allow more concentration and are significantly more energy efficient in daily operation.

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