Work Slang and Idiomatic Expressions That You Should Learn Now
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 Study.com, an idiom is “a saying or expression that says one thing literally but means something else when explored in context.”
Conversely, Thoughtco.com 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.
Meaning: A blue-collar worker performs manual labor, while a white-collar worker sits at a desk and usually wears a suit and tie.
Usage: The 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.
Usage: Within 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.
Usage: Anna 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.
Usage: Our 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.
Usage: I 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)
Meaning: To fire (sack) someone.
Usage: Tim wasn’t pulling his weight, so I had to give him the ax.
Get your marching orders
Meaning: To be dismissed or expelled.
Usage: We 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.
Usage: Give 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.
Usage: I got a carte blanche from my manager to make business-critical decisions without his input.
Meaning: To go back to something later or restart an ongoing process.
Usage: Objections 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.
Usage: We 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.
Usage: I 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.
Usage: The 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.
Usage: After 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.
Usage: Our 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.
Usage: Can 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.
Usage: We 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.
Usage: We 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.
Meaning: To reach a point of balance in your accounts without making a profit or loss.
Usage: We’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
Meaning: To have several uncompleted tasks that you need to work on.
Usage: I 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.
Usage: Before you put pen to sheet, let’s finalize the business plan.
Learn the ropes
Meaning: To learn how to perform a particular task.
Usage: My 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.
Usage: I 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.
Usage: He 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.
Usage: This 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.
Usage: My 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.
Usage: I 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.
Usage: Jane broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first female CEO of a construction company in Maine.
Work like a dog
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.
Usage: I 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.
Usage: The 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.
Usage: We have to build the feature even though it is a shot in the dark.
Provide a ballpark figure
Meaning: To provide an estimated amount.
Usage: Can 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.
Usage: The pandemic threw us a curveball that we are yet to recover from.
Raise the bar
Meaning: To increase standards and expectations.
Usage: The 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.
Usage: Since the project failed, we are returning to the drawing board.
Bump someone up
Meaning: To promote someone to a new position.
Usage: The 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.
Usage: Once 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.
Usage: I 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.
Usage: My 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.