100 Best Idioms About Work

When we talk about work, idioms help us describe the ups and downs, the hard days, and even the fun moments, all in a catchy way. So, let’s dive in and discover some of the coolest work-related idioms that people use to talk about their jobs.

Getting Ahead

1. Climbing the Corporate Ladder

This idiom means that you’re working hard to get promotions and move up in your job. It’s like you’re climbing up the steps of a ladder, but instead of steps, you’re gaining new job titles and responsibilities. You’ll often hear this term when people are talking about career growth.

2. The Early Bird Gets the Worm

This phrase means that if you start your day early or act quickly, you’ll have a better chance to succeed. In the workplace, being early can make a good impression and might get you special opportunities that others might miss.

3. Go the Extra Mile

This means to do more than what’s expected of you in your job. If you consistently go the extra mile, it shows that you’re committed and dedicated, which can help you get ahead and be noticed by your bosses.

4. Put Your Best Foot Forward

This phrase means to show the best side of yourself, especially when it matters most, like in job interviews or important meetings. Doing this can help you stand out and move up in your career.

5. Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps

This means starting from a difficult position and working hard to improve your situation. If you manage to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, it shows determination and resilience, qualities that can help you advance in your job.

6. Burning the Midnight Oil

This means working late into the night to complete tasks. If you’re willing to burn the midnight oil, you’re showing dedication to your job, which can help you get ahead.

7. Cutting Corners

This means taking shortcuts or doing things in an easier but riskier way. While it might help in the short term, cutting corners is generally frowned upon because it can lead to lower-quality work.

8. Get Your Foot in the Door

This idiom means to take a starting position with the hope of achieving something better later on. It’s like getting an entry-level job and using it as an opportunity to climb higher in the company.

9. Throw Your Hat in the Ring

This means to show that you’re interested in taking on a new job or responsibility. If you throw your hat in the ring, you’re signaling that you’re ready and willing to go for new opportunities.

10. Sink or Swim

This means you’re put into a situation where you must either succeed or fail. In the workplace, a sink-or-swim situation often occurs when you’re given a big responsibility and have to prove yourself.

11. Hitting the Ground Running

This means to start a new job or project with lots of energy and enthusiasm right away. If you hit the ground running, you’re likely to catch the attention of your bosses and get ahead faster.

12. Keep Your Nose to the Grindstone

This means to focus on your work and keep busy. By keeping your nose to the grindstone, you show commitment to your job and increase your chances of getting ahead.

13. Break the Glass Ceiling

This means to go beyond the usual limits, especially as a woman or a minority. Breaking the glass ceiling usually refers to getting a high-level job that traditionally might not have been accessible.

14. Step Up to the Plate

This means to take on a challenge or responsibility, often when others won’t. Stepping up to the plate shows leadership qualities, which can help you advance in your job.

15. Roll Up Your Sleeves

This means to get ready for some hard work. Rolling up your sleeves shows that you’re ready to dig in and get the job done, a quality that can help you move up in your career.

16. Eyes on the Prize

This means to focus on the end goal or reward. By keeping your eyes on the prize, you stay motivated to work hard and achieve what you’re aiming for, helping you to get ahead.

17. Play Your Cards Right

This means making smart decisions to improve your situation. In work, playing your cards right can involve networking effectively, making wise choices, and taking good opportunities when they come up.

18. Stay Ahead of the Game

This means to be more prepared or knowledgeable than others. Staying ahead of the game gives you an advantage and can help you move up the career ladder more quickly.

19. Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

This means not to get too comfortable with your current achievements. If you’re always striving for more instead of resting on your laurels, you’re more likely to get ahead.

20. Push the Envelope

This means going beyond the usual limits or rules to achieve something. In a work context, pushing the envelope might mean trying out new ideas or methods to get better results, which can make you stand out and get ahead.


21. Two Heads Are Better Than One

This means that working together can help solve problems faster and better than working alone. When multiple people put their heads together, they can come up with solutions that one person might not have thought of.

22. There’s No ‘I‘ in Team

This idiom stresses that teamwork is about the group, not just one person. It reminds everyone that success comes from working together and that being selfish won’t get the team very far.

23. Rowing in the Same Direction

This means that everyone on the team is working toward the same goal. When everyone is rowing in the same direction, the team is more coordinated and can achieve their goals faster.

24. Circle the Wagons

This means that the team should come together to defend against a common challenge or problem. It emphasizes the need for unity and quick action when times are tough.

25. Many Hands Make Light Work

This idiom means that when a lot of people help out, the work gets done quicker, and it’s easier for everyone. Even big or tough tasks become manageable when shared among team members.

26. Close Ranks

This means to unite and stand together, especially when facing criticism or a challenge. When a team closes ranks, they’re showing that they support each other and are committed to their common goals.

27. Put All Your Cards on the Table

This means being completely open and honest about plans or problems. In a team, putting all your cards on the table can help to build trust and make sure everyone is on the same page.

28. On the Same Page

This means that everyone understands and agrees on the plan or status of a project. It’s important for teamwork because it ensures that everyone is working toward the same objectives.

29. Sing from the Same Hymn Sheet

This is similar to being on the same page, and it means that everyone is in agreement and expressing the same views. It’s important in teamwork to avoid confusion and mixed messages.

30. Pick Up the Slack

This means to do the work that someone else is unable or unwilling to do. In a team, if someone picks up the slack, they help to keep things moving smoothly so the whole team can succeed.

31. Carry Your Weight

This means to do your fair share of the work. In a team, everyone needs to carry their weight so that a few people aren’t left doing all the work.

32. In the Trenches

This means working hard, usually alongside others, to get a tough job done. It’s often used to describe teamwork in challenging conditions or under tight deadlines.

33. Band Together

This means to unite for a common cause. When a team bands together, they can accomplish things that would be difficult for individuals to achieve on their own.

34. Rub Shoulders With

This means to work closely or interact with others, usually in a social or work setting. In terms of teamwork, rubbing shoulders can help you understand your teammates better.

35. Cross the Finish Line Together

This means to achieve a goal as a team, not just as an individual. It stresses the importance of everyone’s contributions and the shared victory at the end.

36. A Chain is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link

This means that a team’s effectiveness is limited by its least effective member. The idea is that everyone needs to contribute positively to the team to achieve its best results.

37. Shoulder to Shoulder

This means to stand or work closely together in a united way. Working shoulder to shoulder means that everyone is equally involved and committed.

38. A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor

This idiom suggests that challenges and difficulties make people better at what they do. In terms of teamwork, it means that facing challenges together can make the team stronger.

39. The Ball is in Your Court

This means it’s your turn to take action or make a decision. In a team, this phrase is often used to indicate that someone has been given the responsibility to move a project or task forward.

40. All for One and One for All

This is a rallying cry that means each individual supports the group, and the group supports each individual. It’s a reminder that in teamwork, everyone’s effort counts.

Being Busy

41. Burning the Candle at Both Ends

This means you are working very hard and keeping very busy, often too much so. You’re using all your energy and time, much like a candle that’s lit at both ends burns out quickly. This idiom suggests that you may be stretching yourself too thin.

42. Running Around Like a Chicken With Its Head Cut Off

This describes someone who is super busy, running from task to task, but not very organized. Just like a chicken with its head cut off might run around aimlessly, the person is busy but not effective.

43. Up to My Eyeballs

This means you are extremely busy, almost overwhelmed with work. If you say you’re “up to your eyeballs,” it means you’ve got so much going on that you can hardly see over the pile of work in front of you.

44. Spinning Your Wheels

This idiom means you’re busy but not productive. It’s like when a car’s wheels spin, but the car doesn’t move. You’re putting in effort but not getting anywhere.

45. Slamming on All Cylinders

This means you’re working at full capacity or at peak performance. All parts of a project or job are going smoothly, like an engine where all cylinders are firing perfectly.

46. In Over Your Head

This idiom means you’ve taken on more than you can manage. You’re so busy that you can’t keep up with all the tasks or responsibilities.

47. Juggling a Lot of Balls

This means you’re handling many tasks or responsibilities at once. Just like a juggler keeps several balls in the air, you’re keeping multiple projects or tasks going at the same time.

48. Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

This means taking on more tasks or responsibilities than you can handle. You’re so busy because you’ve overcommitted yourself.

49. Chasing Your Tail

This idiom means you’re very busy but not making any progress. You’re running in circles, doing lots but not getting much done, like a dog chasing its own tail.

50. Spread Too Thin

This means you have too many tasks or commitments and can’t give your best to any of them. Just like butter spread too thinly on bread, your efforts and attention are spread too widely.

51. Wearing Many Hats

This means you have many different duties or roles. You’re busy because you’re responsible for many different things, just as if you were wearing different hats for different jobs.

52. A Bee in Your Bonnet

This idiom usually means that you’re obsessed with an idea or task. You’re so focused on this one thing that you become extremely busy with it.

53. Run Off Your Feet

This means you are extremely busy, to the point that you hardly have time to sit down. You’re constantly on the move, tackling task after task.

54. Flat Out Like a Lizard Drinking

This Australian idiom means you’re extremely busy, as busy as a lizard drinking water on a hot day. It’s a humorous way to say you’re swamped with work.

55. Packed Like Sardines

This means your schedule is filled to the brim with tasks or activities. Just like sardines tightly packed in a can, your day is filled with things to do.

56. Hitting the Wall

This means you’ve reached a point where you’re too tired or burned out to continue working effectively. Often happens when you’ve been too busy for too long.

57. On a Roll

This means things are going exceptionally well, usually while in the middle of an active or busy period. You’re building momentum and getting a lot accomplished.

58. Burning Daylight

This idiom means wasting time when there’s work to be done. When you’re busy, every minute counts, so “burning daylight” suggests you need to get back to being productive.

59. Behind the Eight Ball

This means you’re in a tough spot, usually because you’re running out of time to finish something. When you’re busy, being “behind the eight ball” means you’re running out of time to get everything done.

60. Running the Gauntlet

This means going through a series of challenges or difficulties. In the context of being busy, running the gauntlet refers to navigating through a series of tasks or obligations that keep you extremely busy.

Making Decisions

61. Sitting on the Fence

This means you can’t or won’t make a decision. In a work setting, sitting on the fence could delay projects or cause missed opportunities. It’s generally not a good thing because indecisiveness can hold back progress.

62. Bite the Bullet

This means to make a difficult decision or endure a challenging situation. At work, you might have to bite the bullet and make an unpopular decision for the good of the company or team.

63. Cross That Bridge When You Come to It

This means to deal with a problem when it becomes necessary, not before. At work, this could be a way to avoid overthinking decisions that don’t need to be made immediately. It suggests focusing on immediate tasks first.

64. The Ball is in Your Court

This idiom means the next move or decision is up to you. In a work context, this often happens after a meeting where different options have been discussed, and now it’s your turn to take action.

65. Jump on the Bandwagon

This means to adopt a popular trend or activity. In work, jumping on the bandwagon can mean adopting new technologies or methods because everyone else is doing it. It could be good but also carries risks of following fads.

66. Go Against the Grain

This means to do something that is the opposite of what is usually done. At work, going against the grain could mean making a decision that is unpopular or unconventional but could turn out to be beneficial.

67. Read the Tea Leaves

This means trying to interpret uncertain outcomes. In work settings, reading the tea leaves could involve trying to predict market trends or future challenges and making decisions based on those predictions.

68. Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

This means to risk everything on a single venture. In a work scenario, this might mean investing all resources into one project, which could be either very successful or a complete failure.

69. Take the Bull by the Horns

This means to face a problem directly and deal with it decisively. At work, this could mean taking the lead in solving a problem or making a difficult decision that others are avoiding.

70. Roll the Dice

This means to take a risk when you make a decision. In the workplace, rolling the dice could refer to making a decision based on uncertain outcomes, hoping for the best.

71. Throw in the Towel

This means to give up or admit defeat. In a work setting, throwing in the towel might mean stopping a project or abandoning a strategy that just isn’t working.

72. Cut Your Losses

This means stopping a failing venture to prevent further loss. At work, you might need to cut your losses by ending a project that’s not delivering results and reallocating resources elsewhere.

73. Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

This means don’t assume something will happen until it actually does. In work, this could mean not assuming a project will be a success until it actually proves to be.

74. The Ship Has Sailed

This means that an opportunity is lost or that a decision has already been made and cannot be reversed. At work, it suggests that it’s too late to make a different decision or take a different action.

75. Back to the Drawing Board

This means starting over after a plan fails. In work terms, it often means revisiting a project or idea from the start to make new decisions about how to proceed.

76. Turn Over a New Leaf

This means to make a fresh start or change your behavior for the better. In the context of work, this could mean making a new set of decisions aimed at improving performance or team dynamics.

77. Play Your Cards Right

This means to make smart decisions to get the outcome you want. In a work context, playing your cards right could involve strategic decision-making to advance in your career or improve a project.

78. Burn Your Bridges

This means making decisions that make it impossible to change course or go back to the way things were. At work, burning your bridges could involve quitting your job or changing career paths in a way that you can’t easily reverse.

79. Look Before You Leap

This means to think carefully about the possible outcomes or risks before taking action. In work, it means considering all options and consequences before making a major decision.

80. Make or Break

This refers to a situation or decision that will ultimately lead to great success or total failure. At work, a make-or-break decision could determine the future of your project, team, or even your entire career.

Dealing with Stress

81. Keep Your Cool

This means to remain calm and composed, even when you’re in a stressful situation. At work, keeping your cool can be vital for decision-making and maintaining a productive atmosphere, especially when deadlines are tight or stakes are high.

82. Let Off Steam

This means to release pent-up emotions or stress. You might let off steam at work by taking a quick walk or talking to a friend. It’s important to have an outlet for stress so it doesn’t affect your performance or well-being.

83. Pulling Your Hair Out

This idiom means you’re extremely stressed or frustrated. In a work context, you might feel like pulling your hair out because of a difficult project or a tight deadline, indicating that the stress level is very high.

84. At the End of Your Rope

This means you have reached your limit of patience or endurance. At work, being at the end of your rope suggests you’re so stressed that you can’t handle any more pressure or challenges.

85. Bite the Bullet

This means to face a difficult or unpleasant situation courageously. In a stressful work environment, you may have to bite the bullet and tackle challenging tasks head-on rather than avoid them.

86. Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk

This means don’t waste time worrying about things that have already happened and can’t be changed. In a work setting, this could mean moving on quickly after a setback or failure without dwelling on it.

87. Keep Your Nose to the Grindstone

This means to work hard and stay focused, even if it’s stressful. At work, keeping your nose to the grindstone can mean putting in the hours and effort to complete a task, despite the stress it might bring.

88. Nervous Nellie

This is a term used to describe someone who is always anxious or stressed. If you’re a “Nervous Nellie” at work, you might be overly worried about deadlines, performance reviews, or the outcomes of projects.

89. Burning Out

This means you’re completely worn out mentally or physically due to stress or overwork. If you’re burning out at work, you’ve probably been under sustained stress and might need to take some time off to recover.

90. Hold Your Horses

This means to wait and think before acting. If you’re feeling stressed at work, sometimes it’s better to “hold your horses” before making any rash decisions that you might regret later.

91. A Weight Off Your Shoulders

This means a relief from something that has been troubling you. In a work scenario, completing a stressful project or resolving a conflict can feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

92. Hang in There

This means to keep going even when things are tough. At work, this could mean continuing to work diligently despite stress, challenges, or setbacks.

93. Batten Down the Hatches

This means to prepare for a challenging situation. In a work context, if a stressful period like an audit or a product launch is coming up, you’d “batten down the hatches” by preparing as much as possible.

94. Cool as a Cucumber

This means to stay calm and composed, even in stressful situations. Being cool as a cucumber at work is an admirable quality, especially when everyone else is stressed out.

95. Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

This means to be so caught up in the details that you lose sight of the bigger picture. When stressed at work, you might get so wrapped up in minor issues that you forget about your main goals or objectives.

96. Get a Grip

This means to gain control over your emotions or situation. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, you may need to get a grip on your stress to perform efficiently.

97. Walk on Eggshells

This means to act very carefully because a situation is sensitive or could become difficult. At work, you might have to walk on eggshells during stressful negotiations or when interacting with difficult clients or colleagues.

98. Take It with a Grain of Salt

This means not taking something too seriously. If you’re feeling stressed at work, taking comments or setbacks with a grain of salt can prevent you from becoming more stressed.

99. When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

This means when circumstances become difficult, strong people take action. At work, this could mean facing challenges head-on rather than being overwhelmed by stress.

100. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

This means don’t risk everything on one venture or idea. At work, this could mean not relying solely on a single project or client, as doing so can create stress and risk failure.

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Bea is an editor and writer with a passion for literature and self-improvement. Her ability to combine these two interests enables her to write informative and thought-provoking articles that positively impact society. She enjoys reading stories and listening to music in her spare time.