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November 28, 2001
The Seven Deadly Complaints
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ce Katcher, an industrial and organizational psychologist, has identified what he calls the seven universal complaints of employees.

Which leads Michael Kinsman, the workplace columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, to ask: If Katcher can put his finger on employee dissatisfaction so easily, why can't corporate leaders?

"Either they don't hear their workers' complaints," Katcher replies, "or they are too consumed with other matters to do anything about them."

Katcher, based in Sharon, Mass., told Kinsman that corporate leaders are more reactive than proactive when it comes to employee relations. The result: festering frustrations.

Here are the seven universal complaints identified by Katcher:
  • There's no job security here.
  • I don't trust management.
  • There's too much work to do.
  • The pay is too low.
  • Communication is poor.
  • I don't have enough balance in my life.
  • I feel underappreciated.

Executives would find it worthwhile to address these frustrations in a meaningful way, Katcher said, but they are often out of touch with the realities others face in the workplace.

"It's hard to believe, but when you get to the top of senior management, you are different," he said. "It's a phenomenon that occurs in nearly all companies. It may be because the information you get at the top is filtered or it may come from the bias of being on top.

"That's why we think of management as being myopic or uncaring. That's why it seems like senior management doesn't have a clue. But you can flip-flop that and say the same thing about the people in the mailroom or the clerical staff. It works both ways."

Katcher said that if he possessed magical power to make one important difference as a chief executive, he'd concentrate on work-life balance. The lack of that, he said, has a draining effect on today's workforce.

"The people who are happiest in our work force are those that work part-time or in off-hours," he said. "Independent contractors and self-employed also are happy.

"We see that having control over your work is important to most people. The key seems to be giving people flexibility. If they need an hour off to do something and the company gives them that flexibility, knowing that they will make it up later, that is showing people respect and dignity."

But communication is the biggest need, according to Katcher, and that requires overcoming some built-in corporate blinders. Specifically, top executives need to recognize that they enjoy perspectives different from those of the people they supervise.

"One of the perks of senior management is that they have this power to work from home if they want or to come in late," Katcher says. "For some reason they don't appreciate how much that means to them and how much it would mean to other workers."

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