Have you ever heard a phrase from your co-workers that doesn’t seem to make sense at all? Like your manager’s yelling that everyone on the team should go “back to square one”. Or that the company has to do some “belt-tightening”? Or that everyone must “applaud the backroom boys”? Well, these are examples of workplace idioms. If you find yourself wondering what these people are saying, you just had your first introduction to idioms. If you can translate the words but cannot understand the meaning of the phrase as a whole, you need to read this post.
We’ll guide you through the world of workplace expressions to help you improve your communication skills and impress your colleagues. Take a look at our list of common workplace idioms that you can use every day at work.
Workplace Idioms and Business Sayings: Meaning and Examples
A lot on my plate
This idiomatic expression means that you have many things to do, or you are up to plenty of responsibilities at your workplace. You can also use this phrase to stress that you are busy.
“Hey John, we’re going to the pub after work. Will you come with us?”
“Oh, I’m afraid not. I still have a lot on my plate that are due for submission tomorrow.”
Back to square one
It means to go back or retrace the step from the beginning. This phrase sounds annoying or disappointing at work, as it means previous efforts had been wasted. Another idiomatic expression with the same meaning as this phrase is “back to the drawing board.”
The board rejected the project marketing proposal, so the marketing department is back to square one again.
The initial presentation was a mess. We need to get back to the drawing board as soon as possible, as the potential investors are scheduled to arrive next week.
This typical English idiom means to give a rough estimate, practically a “more or less” prediction of costs.
“The 5-story building project, if we will work in full swing, can be finished in less than six months.”
“That’s good to hear. But, can you give me a ballpark figure as to how much I have to raise from co-investors?”
This workplace slang pertains to employees working on vital business operations but is not often seen in the workplace.
The manager mistakenly addressed Jim as an applicant, not knowing that he is one of the company’s backroom boys.
In the company video, there was a split-second shot of the company’s backroom boys.
Bang for the buck
It pertains to a business decision, plan, or investment that can give more value than initially spent.
That single commercial starring the famous Korean singers provided more bang for the buck than the multiple television ads that starred Hollywood celebrities.
Perhaps, you might wonder why it appears in this list of English idioms you can use at work every day. After all, it’s not surprising that there’s a chance that there would be talks about a blank check at a workplace. Beyond this literal meaning, this phrase means someone has complete control over something or is free to make a decision.
The CEO has given the marketing director a blank check to pursue innovative forms of advertising.
It means an organization must undergo a rigorous reduction in costs as it is on the verge of losing funds. It can also mean that a business is experiencing cash flow problems.
Almost half of the workforce had been laid off due to the company’s ongoing belt-tightening procedures.
This idiomatic expression pertains to employees doing manual labor work.
James is a blue-collar employee at a trucking warehouse.
It means that an educated workforce is leaving one workplace to move to another company, either changing career plans or pursuing better opportunities.
The Philippines suffered a devastating brain drain due to the economic fallout.
This idiomatic expression pertains to a business’s inability to have a profit after spending some money on business activities.
With such tremendous loss, my boss told me that the company would need a whole year to reach a break-even point.
This phrase means that an employee who’s on holiday or off from work is doing exactly the same thing he/she does at work.
The gardener spent the busman’s holiday tending his front lawn.
By the book
This idiomatic expression means the employees are following strict rules at the workplace.
If you want to be promoted, you have to show your manager that you are working by the book.
Call it a day
Perhaps this phrase in the list of English idioms you can use at work is everybody’s favorite. It means the day is over, or the work is done, and everybody can go home.
“We’ve been working hard all day. Let’s wrap it up and call it a day.”
Call the shots
“Call the shots” is one of the many workplace idioms that refer to having the power and authority to make critical business decisions.
The boss told me to call the shots if needed while he’s away on vacation.
This office jargon pertains to a company’s service or product that’s consistently bringing money or profit to the company.
The leather bag released last year remains the strongest cash cow of the bag company.
It means to agree with a business decision that seemed off to you previously or to finally give your consent to something that doesn’t appeal to you initially.
With only one a few votes on his project proposal, the marketing manager had no choice but to cave into the new team’s plan.
This idiom means to take strong or strict action against something bothering the workplace or business operations.
After two weeks of silence, the upper management decided to clamp down on the striking employees.
Climb the corporate ladder
This phrase means to work your way up in a company or to be promoted to a higher position.
John has been working day and night. He does so because of his goal to climb the corporate ladder.
This idiom refers to a business call made without a prior appointment, intending to make a sale or offer.
As part of my test, I’ve been handed a long list of personal contacts to cold-call.
Compare apples to oranges
It means to make a comparison between two things that are way too different from each other.
The ongoing pandemic has crippled our business operations. To talk about the difference between last year and this year’s revenue is like comparing apples to oranges.
Cook the books
This idiom pertains to the illegal act of changing the company’s accounting figures.
The boss fired two accountants after finding out that they have cooked the books.
Crack the whip
This idiomatic phrase means to threaten the workforce so that they would be more productive.
After a record-breaking low, the manager cracked the whip in the sales department.
Cut a deal
It means presenting an idea that would be beneficial to relevant parties or reaching an agreement.
After a month-long strike, the group of workers decided to cut a deal with the management.
Learn the ropes
This idiom means that there is a new employee in the company. It also means that the newbie will need to learn the basics as soon as possible.
“Everyone, listen! Meet Zedrick, our new member of our family. Archie, please help Zedrick to learn the ropes of our company as soon as possible.”
Get down to business
This idiomatic expression means that it is time to start being serious about the work. It is used at prep talks and business meetings to ensure that all workers know this time they must focus on their work.
Before the start of the day, Archie’s boss always gathers them to a small business meeting and ended his speech like this. “It is a new day to start our business. I hope that everyone will give their effort for the sake of the success of our company. Now is time to get down to business. Have a good day, everyone!
This idiom means that you must do your project immediately or work on something with the highest priority. You know what to do now if you hear this from your boss.
“Philip, where is your report? I already told you, please fast track this report!”
English Idioms: Why Knowing Them Matters
According to English experts, an excellent oral command of the universal language is more than just speaking correctly. It’s also about knowing several idiomatic expressions and using them the right way. The list of the standard English workplace idioms you can use every day must be checked since they are all essential in business. As a professional, you are expected to understand how it works in your company. If you don’t study these common workplace expressions, chances are you will find yourself lost in a business conversation.
To find your way through the web of these work idioms, we recommend this list as your reviewer. You don’t have to take everything all at once. You can take one at a time and use them in your everyday conversation, as long as it’s relevant. Before you know it, these workplace idioms are already part of your daily work vocabulary.