Work Idioms

Use these work idioms in conversation to talk about your job, your working style – and office politics and relationships. All these idioms are connected with the world of work.

Hiring and firing

take on = hire someone: “They’re taking on more than 500 people at the canning factory.”

get the boot = be fired: “She got the boot for being lazy.”

give someone the sack = fire someone: “He was given the sack for stealing.”

give someone their marching orders = fire someone: “After the argument, he was given his marching orders.”

How do you work?

get your feet under the table = get settled in: “It only took him a week to get his feet under the table, then he started to make changes.”

burn the candle at both ends = work day and night at something: “He’s been burning the candle at both ends to finish this project.”

knuckle under = stop wasting time and start working: “The sooner you knuckle under and start work, the better.”

put pen to paper = start writing: “She finally put pen to paper and wrote the letter.”

work all the hours that God sends = work as much as possible: “She works all the hours that God sends to support her family.”

work your fingers to the bone = work very hard: “I work my fingers to the bone for you.”

go the extra mile = do more than is expected of you: “She’s a hard worker and always goes the extra mile.”

pull your weight = do your fair share of the work: “He’s a good team worker and always pulls his weight.”

pull your socks up = make a better effort: “You’ll have to pull your socks up and work harder if you want to impress the boss!”

put your feet up = relax: “At last that’s over – now I can put my feet up for a while.”

Office politics and relationships

get on the wrong side of someone = make someone dislike you: “Don’t get on the wrong side of him. He’s got friends in high places!”

butter someone up = be very nice to someone because you want something: “If you want a pay rise, you should butter up the boss.”

the blue-eyed boy = a person who can do nothing wrong: “John is the blue-eyed boy at the moment – he’s making the most of it!”

get off on the wrong foot = start off badly with someone: “You got off on the wrong foot with him – he hates discussing office politics.”

be in someone’s good (or bad) books = be in favour (or disfavour) with someone: “I’m not in her good books today – I messed up her report.”

a mover and shaker = someone whose opinion is respected: “He’s a mover and shaker in the publishing world.”

pull a few strings = use your influence for something: “I had to pull a few strings to get this assignment.”

take the rap for something = take the blame for something: “They made a mistake, but we had to take the rap for it.”

call in a favour = ask someone to return a favour: “I need a holiday – I’m going to call in a few favours and ask the others to cover for me.”

put your cards on the table = tell people what you want: “You have to put your cards on the table and tell her that you want a pay rise!”

beat around the bush = not say exactly what you want: “Tell me – don’t beat around the bush!”

sit on the fence = be unable to decide about something: “When there are arguments, she just sits on the fence and says nothing.”

pass the buck = pass on responsibility to someone else: “The CEO doesn’t pass the buck. In fact, he often says “the buck stops here!”

take someone under your wing = look after someone: “When he was taken on, Sarah took him under her wing.”

show someone the ropes = show someone how things are done: “My predecessor showed me the ropes, so I felt quite confident.”

be thrown in at the deep end = not get any advice or support: “He was thrown in at the deep end with his new job. No-one helped him at all.”

a them and us situation = when you (us) are opposed to “them”: “The atmosphere between the two departments is terrible. There’s a real them and us situation.”

Work Idioms

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