"for a desktop environment supposed to just work right out of the box to cater for less computer-savvy people, that's just ridiculous."
It does work out of the box for less computer-savvy people. Both my mom & dad use GNOME 3 and they don't even have tweak-tool or dconf-editor installed on their systems. They never asked for anything that would require it either. (And a little anecdote: they both learned about suspending over shutting down their laptops thanks to GNOME 3).
As for your workflow related problem: some workflows people learned in past environments simply don't work in GNOME 3 and never will. For instance, there are people that store dozens of documents or application launchers on their desktop. You could tweak GNOME 3 to poorly support that (up until 3.4), but ultimately that's not what it was designed for. It's not going to provide a great experience for users who insist on working that way, and the GNOME devs are fine with that I would imagine. They're not really trying to provide software that instantly works just like whatever users are currently used to; they're taking some steps in new directions, and some of that is going to pay off wonderfully, and some of it will need adjustments.
I'm familiar with Windows, OS X and GNOME 2 and still use them in a professional environment. For me, the experience provided by GNOME 3 with the overview, dynamic workspace management and integrated search for launching apps and documents is unmatched.