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Jobs and Money: What Are You Whining About?

Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011 | 10:27 AM ET

The economy may be showing signs of improvement but there’s still a lot to complain about for the average American worker. Nearly 14 million people remain unemployed and for the lucky few who have jobs, many are overworked and underpaid.

Ryan McVay | Getty Images

“Everyone is struggling — whether it’s their boss, budget cuts, not enough people to do the work or changing initiatives,” said Julie Jansen, a career coach and the author of “I Don’t Know What I Want But I Know It’s Not This.”

In fact, if anything, there are more complaints today than there were in the middle of the recession because now, those who are working have finally stopped being scared about losing their jobs and are feeling like they can speak up about the hardships they endured over the past few years while companies were cutting costs.

That’s why Jansen decided to team up with her brother, wine consultant Chris Jansen, for a night of “Wine & Whine” in Stamford, Conn. What better way to get people to attend your event than to offer them a chance to complain?!

The numbers alone were telling: There were at least 30 people who attended the event on a chilly March night and there was a waiting list of 23 more people. That’s right, there’s a waiting list for complaints in Connecticut!

Imagine a long line at the deli counter and a lady in a hairnet and dirty apron announces, “No. 45? No. 45? Yes, step up to the counter, sir. What’s your complaint?!”

Plug the words “job” and “complain” into a search engine and you’ll get a whopping 30 million results — Everything from web sites that invite you to submit your complaints, to statistics about complaining and yes, even tips for how to make your complaints the best EVER.

So what are people complaining about?

First of all, money.

“Everyone I talk to says they’re working twice as hard for half the money,” Jansen said.

Age discrimination is another complaint. One attendee, who described himself as a CFO-in-transition but asked not to be identified by name, said age discrimination is much bigger now than ever before. And, he’s tired of hearing that older workers aren’t flexible.

“Things are starting to come back but not for everyone,” said the man, who added that he’s a black belt in the business-management strategy Six Sigma, but is having a hard time re-entering the workforce.

“There’s a general perception that as an older worker, you’re not with it, you’re not flexible, but you are!” chimed in Maurene Caplan Grey, who runs a research and consulting business in Kent Lakes, NY.

Overall, workplace discrimination complaints are on the rise since the recession began. Complaints based on race, sex or other category rose 7 percent last year to a record 99,000, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And, that was up 21 percent from 2007, before the recession began.

Wine glass
Wine glass

At the “Wine & Wine” event, there was even a complaint about complaining about age discrimination: A woman in her 40s, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it’s older workers who created the very business culture that they feel is now discriminating against them based on their age.

But wait. It doesn’t stop at 40.

The twenty- and thirty-something guys over at GetRaised.com, a web site that helps coach you to ask for a raise, say they’re tired of people saying that Generation Y is lazy and self-entitled, when this is the generation that graduated into a terrible economy. The Gen Ys who have been lucky enough to get jobs often find themselves hired as freelancers or contractors, which means no benefits — and no job security.

“From day one, we told [Gen Y] that they were special flowers. And we had a very specific message — don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t do any of that bad stuff and you’ll graduate and life will be great,” said Matt Wallaert, the research guy at GetRaised.com. “So you do those things, thinking you have the advantage, and when you get out, those things didn’t happen … No full-time job, no insurance, no 401(k)!” he exclaimed.

No matter what age you are, or whether you’re employed or not, one thing is clear: This economy has given everyone something to complain about.

At the “Wine & Whine” event, there was also a complaint about being nice! Specifically, that in this economy, where it’s every person for themselves, it doesn’t pay to be nice.

“Being nice isn’t rewarded in the workplace. In fact, it can be a detriment to promotion!” proclaimed one woman, who asked not to be identified.

Chuck Scott, who runs a multimedia-production company in Ridgefield, Conn., and writes a blog called “Chucking It,” said, speaking of nice, there’s one thing business owners seemed to have forgotten in this economy: Service. We've all been so busy trying to make a profit, trying to stay afloat, that we've forgotten to be nice to the people we're seeking money from.

In a recent blog post, Scott fumes about companies that “think like pirates and thugs, believing they are entitled to raise the annual renewal price every year just because they can get away with it.” And, he’s tired of having cool promotions offered to him only to find out later they don’t apply to him.

At the "Wine & Wine" event, Katie Scott, who is the volunteer coordinator for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, said that part of their employee review involves how nice they are to the animals and the other humans — something other companies would do well to adopt in their employee reviews.

Jansen, who does career coaching and employee training, said the economy is starting to improve but in a different way. For the past two years, companies would say "We don’t have the budget to hire you," Jansen said. Now, they’re saying, "We know we need to hire you, but we only have a small budget."

And, while employees have complained since the dawn of time, times have changed when it comes to what they’re complaining about. Before the recession, workers’ biggest complaints were that their raises weren’t big enough, technology was changing too fast and employers weren’t giving enough time off, Jansen said.

Now, based on the floodgate of complaints that has been unleashed in this economy, it’s things like discrimination and the demise of the nice guy. Complaining about too small of a raise looks like a frivolous relic of the past.

On JobSchmob.com, a web site that aggregates employee complaints, the list of grievances ranges from bosses who expect too much to idiot co-workers who get promoted instead of you.

Doesn’t that just make your blood boil?

Oh and there’s irony. Sweet, infuriating irony. There are so many complaints nowadays that there are more than 88,000 jobs on Indeed.com with the word “complaint” in the job description — everything from a product-complaint specialist for Johnson & Johnson to a complaint and appeal analyst for Aetna.

I think this guy speaks for all of us when he says:

Pop! Pop! Pop! Slam. Slam. Pop! Pop! Whoosh. Ga-gunk. CRASH!

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Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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