Work Slang and Idiomatic Expressions That You Should Learn Now

Ugo EzendukaRevisado porSana Liashuk / más sobre Proceso editorial9 min
Creado: Jul 13, 2022Última actualización: Jan 17, 2024
Work Idioms

Joining the workforce is a massive life step that takes many young people by surprise. Whether you are going into engineering, healthcare, or retail, you need to learn the workplace lingo to blend in with the crowd.

Some work slang is universal to all industries, while others are specific to a given niche. But you can only fit in with the rest of your colleagues if you can understand and use them in communication. 

In this article, we’ll share idioms about work to help you get the hang of professional communication. 

Workplace Idioms vs. Jargon

Idioms often sound like jargon, especially if you are new to the professional workforce. But they are both inherently different.

According to, an idiom is “a saying or expression that says one thing literally but means something else when explored in context.” 

Conversely, describes “jargon” as the specialized language of a professional group, which is necessary and understandable to those within the group, but meaningless to outsiders.

When you combine work idioms with industry-specific jargon, you get slang words for work.

Why use work idioms?

You are probably wondering why office idioms are necessary. Here are the reasons to splash in some idioms into your workplace vocabulary.

  • Idioms display your fluency and proficiency in the English language.
  • You can use idioms to take the sting out of words. (Eg. “Give someone the ax” sounds milder than “fire someone.”)
  • Idioms add extra flavor to your written and spoken communication.
  • Using idiomatic work phrases helps you fit into the collective seamlessly.


40+ Work Idioms and Phrases in English 

We’ve gathered a list of English idioms and phrases that will come in handy at your job, regardless of industry. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Blue/white-collar worker

Meaning: A blue-collar worker performs manual labor, while a white-collar worker sits at a desk and usually wears a suit and tie. 

UsageThe carpenter is a blue-collar worker, while the clerk is a white-collar employee.

This is one of the widely acceptable expressions about work that focuses on the kind of function you perform at your job.

Carve a niche

Meaning: To establish dominance and expertise in a specific area by performing above par. 

UsageWithin six months, Jackie was able to carve a niche for themselves in metallurgy.

Mark your territory

Meaning: To claim something, especially in the office space, so that everyone knows it belongs to you exclusively. 

UsageAnna used the broken seat to mark her territory in the recess room. 

Nobody else can sit there.

Miss the mark

This is one of the typical job idioms that depict failure. Managers often use it to describe failure in a positive light in order to keep team morale high. 

Meaning: To fail at something or to get something wrong.

UsageOur quarterly estimates missed the mark by a few million dollars.

Go off the top (of your head)

Meaning: To recall and repeat something from memory.

UsageI could tell you the budget for last month off the top of my head, but I don’t want to make any errors.

Give someone the ax (ax someone)  
Give someone the ax- To fire (sack) someone

Meaning: To fire (sack) someone.

UsageTim wasn’t pulling his weight, so I had to give him the ax.

Get your marching orders

Meaning: To be dismissed or expelled. 

UsageWe got our marching orders from the boss today.

Bring someone up to speed

Meaning: To give someone all the information they need to stay updated about the process.   
UsageGive me a minute. I need to bring you up to speed on recent developments.

This idiomatic expression is everyday slang for working with new hires.

Get a carte blanche

Meaning: To get the freedom to act as you wish.

UsageI got a carte blanche from my manager to make business-critical decisions without his input.

Circle back

Meaning: To go back to something later or restart an ongoing process.

UsageObjections noted. Let’s circle back to that at the end of the week.

Creme de la creme (best in class)

Meaning: The very best at something.

UsageWe only hire the creme de la creme in sales and marketing in order to stay competitive.

Climb Everest for someone

Meaning: To do the impossible for someone; to make sacrifices on someone’s behalf.

UsageI can climb Everest for him because he helped me a lot during my internship.

You can also use idioms for hard work to express the magnitude of something you did for someone.

Do a hatchet job

Meaning: To attack someone’s work or persona, especially in detailed writing.

UsageThe New York Times article was a hatchet job on our current CEO.

This workplace slang is commonly used in journalism.

Crunch the numbers

Meaning: To carefully analyze the company’s finances.

UsageAfter crunching the numbers, we’ve figured out that the company will make massive profits this quarter.

Be in the red

Meaning: To be in debt or to owe more than you earn.

UsageOur business account is in the red. At this rate, we’ll go bankrupt by December. Read more about Business English Idioms and Expressions.

Address the elephant in the room

Meaning: To discuss a controversial issue that is the center of attention.

UsageCan we address the elephant in the room?

Go all in

Meaning: To invest all your effort, time, and resources towards achieving an objective, regardless of risk.

This slang is one of the most widely-used idioms for working hard and making massive sacrifices for the greater good.

UsageWe have to go all-in on this merger if the company has a chance at survival.

Go back to base (back to square one)

Meaning: To start a process from the beginning because it failed or because you want to make changes.

UsageWe have to go back to base. As things stand, we are back to square one.

Although this expression is not an idiom for hard work, managers and higher-ups often use it to signify that the team needs to double their efforts during the next iteration.

Break even

Meaning: To reach a point of balance in your accounts without making a profit or loss.

UsageWe’ll break even on this trade at the current market rate.

Take someone under your wings

Meaning: To mentor someone; to teach a new employee how things work.

Usage: I will take him under my wings to make sure he gets the hang of things faster.

Have a massive backlog

Have a massive backlog - Hard work

Meaning: To have several uncompleted tasks that you need to work on.

UsageI can’t hang out with you this weekend because I have a massive backlog.

Put pen to sheet

Meaning: To write something down on paper or to sign a document.

UsageBefore you put pen to sheet, let’s finalize the business plan.

Learn the ropes

Meaning: To learn how to perform a particular task.  
UsageMy success in this new role depends on how fast I can learn the ropes.

Get on the same page

This idiom is one of the phrases about work that you will need in a managerial position.

Meaning: To get people to agree on something.

UsageI want to get everyone on the same page before giving my final verdict.

Be the teacher’s pet

Meaning: To be the favorite of someone in authority, e.g., the manager or CEO.

UsageHe can get away with taking such risks because he is the teacher’s pet.

Be on rocky waters

You can use this and other hard work idioms when experiencing massive obstacles at your job. 

Meaning: To be in a situation that presents many ups and downs; to be in a difficult situation.

UsageThis project has been on rocky waters since we launched it in May.

Headhunt new talent

This is common slang for job recruiters and HR personnel.

Meaning: To identify and approach suitable candidates to fill a job vacancy, usually from your competitors.

UsageMy primary responsibility in this organization is to headhunt new talent.

Bring someone aboard

Meaning: To recruit someone.

Usage: We brought a new sales rep aboard to help us boost conversions.

Burn the candle at both ends

Of all the idioms about hard work, this one expresses an employee’s dedication to the company’s goals.

Meaning: To do more than necessary in pursuit of a goal. To overwork (or overextend) oneself.

UsageI will burn the candle at both ends until I settle this account.

Break the glass ceiling

Meaning: To reach a senior position that used to be unattainable for people within your demographics. 

You can use workplace idioms like these to show your knowledge of inclusivity and diversity.

UsageJane broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first female CEO of a construction company in Maine.

Work like a dog

Work like a dog - To show extreme loyalty and determination

This is one of the “working like a” sayings you can hear at the water cooler. But be careful when using it to address upper management.

Meaning: To show extreme loyalty and determination when performing your duties.

UsageI am going to work like a dog until I get this promotion.

Knock the wind out of our sails

When learning idioms about working hard, you must also learn how to express your failures.

Meaning: To cause someone(something) to lose momentum or determination.

UsageThe recent stock market crash has knocked the wind out of our sails.

Take a shot in the dark

Meaning: To take a risk without having access to enough information.

UsageWe have to build the feature even though it is a shot in the dark.

Provide a ballpark figure

Meaning: To provide an estimated amount.

UsageCan we get a ballpark figure?

If you are going into finance, get ready to hear similar phrases about working in every meeting.

Throw a curveball 

Meaning: To face unforeseen circumstances and obstacles when performing a task.

UsageThe pandemic threw us a curveball that we are yet to recover from.

Raise the bar

Meaning: To increase standards and expectations.

UsageThe new CTO has raised the bar of excellence with his latest approach.

Return to the drawing board

Meaning: To re-address a plan; to start from the beginning.

UsageSince the project failed, we are returning to the drawing board.

Bump someone up

Meaning: To promote someone to a new position.

UsageThe owner bumped me up from secretary to manager because of my outstanding performance.

Read the writing on the wall

Meaning: To see and interpret signs of impending danger.

UsageOnce the stock tanked, we could all see the writing on the wall.

Go out on a limb

Meaning: To take a risk that leaves you in a vulnerable position.

UsageI will go out on a limb to declare this the worst quarter in the company’s history.

Think outside the box

Meaning: To come up with non-conventional solutions.

UsageMy ability to think outside the box makes me the best candidate for this position.  
You can also practice how to pronounce work idioms and expressions with this video.


Learning slang for work with Promova will help you cozy up with your teammates fast. Many different idioms can also be found in our language-learning app. Regardless of your field of expertise, you’ll need to learn several idioms to help you communicate like a seasoned professional. Use every idiom for working hard and peer-to-peer communication to blend in with your colleagues.


What are work idioms?

Work idioms are expressions and slang that every modern employee should know when entering the workforce. Although some of these work idioms contain jargon, learning them will help you understand how people in your field speak, as well as how to talk to them in a language they understand.

Why are idioms important?

Communicating with idioms at work helps you improve your English language proficiency. Using the proper idioms in your written and verbal communication will jazz up your delivery. And most importantly, it will help you deliver hard-hitting news with professional subtlety.

Should I use idioms at work?

Yes, you should use idioms at work when possible. Some companies and organizations have in-house slang that you will need to learn in order to feel a part of the gang. But in general, you can learn general-purpose idioms about work, regardless of your field.

What is work slang?

The typical work slang meaning refers to any expression that uses idioms to convey a thought or feeling. In some cases, the work slang could contain industry-relevant jargon. But in other cases, it could be slang for working hard or a term of endearment derived from informal speech.


just guestOct 26th, 2023
Thanks for this article!
PromovaSep 14th, 2023
Great question! Non-native English speakers can effectively incorporate work idioms into their conversations by first understanding the idioms' meanings and contexts. They should listen to native speakers using these expressions in real conversations and practice using them in appropriate situations. It's also essential to be mindful of the workplace culture and the level of formality when deciding whether to use idioms or slang expressions.
AislySep 14th, 2023
How can non-native english speakers effectively incorporate work idioms into their conversations?
alan4334May 4th, 2023
It's important to understand these idioms and expressions to avoid misunderstandings at work.