>> It's surprising how few novels are set in the workplace
LOTS of novels are written about the workplace. The critical point is that they don't get published.
Here's how it works: Some guy (they're almost always guys) goes to university, gets a BA in English, then goes off and gets a dull office job because he needs money to pay off his student loans, just like everybody else. Time goes by, and about ten years in he starts to grow unsatisfied with his situation and he thinks to himself, "Whatever happened to that novel I always said I was going to write?" And he vows to write a novel.
But what should the novel be about? Well, you know what they say: "Write what you know." And what does he know? Well, pretty much since he got out of college, he's been working at a boring, soul-numbing office job. He hates his coworkers and thinks they're all idiots. The boss is the worst of all. Great stuff, he thinks! He has piles of material to work with. And so he sets out to write his book about a guy working in an office.
The problem is A.) Unbeknownst to him, he is not the first person to have this idea;
B.) When you write a book where the main character is just some schlub in an office going around thinking he's superior to everybody else around him, that main character comes off like a dick;
C.) It turns out that the silly little situations that get you through your dreary days at the office are not really that amusing to anyone else -- or witty, or original, or insightful, etc.;
D.) It turns out that the office is not really a very fertile setting for fiction after all, and that the reason a lot of people who work office jobs bring books with them on the train in the morning is because they'd rather think about something else.
I am being dead serious about all of this. I've been told by literary agents that this type of book is probably the #2 submission received by fiction agents/editors from first-time authors, right after the thinly-veiled memoir of the author's college days disguised as a novel.
Like the latter book, the "novel about my suffering and toil at the office" is best seen as a practice run -- finish it if you must, but then immediately shelve it and start your second novel, which might be about something interesting.