15 Idiomatic Expressions to Use at Work

Business English Course

300 English Idioms Course

Students often ask me if we can use idioms and slang in professional situations – the answer is, it depends. Some expressions are not appropriate for the workplace, but there are many that you can use in conversations among co-workers and less formal emails.

In this lesson, you’ll learn 15 English idioms and phrasal verbs you CAN use at work.

put something off

If you put something off, you delay doing it.

“I put off writing the report until the last day, and now I have to work overtime to finish it!”

take off

If something takes off, it increases or becomes popular very quickly.

“Sales have really taken off this year and the company is making record profits.”

people person

Somebody who is a people person is extroverted, has great social skills, and loves interacting with people.

“Ashley’s been promoted to director of human resources. She’ll do a great job – she’s a real people person.”

crunch the numbers

Crunching the numbers means to do a lot of calculations.

“After crunching the numbers, our accounting department informed us that we don’t have enough money to buy the new equipment.”

have a lot on your plate

If you have a lot on your plate, it means you have a lot of work and responsibilities at the moment.

“Sorry I didn’t call you back sooner; I have a lot on my plate right now.”

selling like hotcakes

If a product is selling like hotcakes, it means  a lot of customers are buying it very fast.

“The new product is selling like hotcakes. We’ll need to produce more to keep up with the demand!”

think outside the box

To think outside the box means to think in a creative way that is different from usual.

“We need to come up with a really good advertising campaign. Let’s try to think outside the box.”

win-win situation

A win-win situation is a cooperative agreement that is good for both people or companies.

“This partnership will bring increased publicity to their company and new customers to ours. It’s a win-win situation.”

test the waters

If you test the waters, you try something new to see if it will be successful or not.

“We’re testing the waters to see if changing the product’s packaging will increase sales.”

bang for the buck

If something provides more bang for the buck, it means it has more value for the money spent.

“I think we should use online ads instead of TV commercials. They give more bang for the buck.”

learning curve

The learning curve is the time it takes to learn an activity or system.

“Our database system has an easy learning curve – you’ll be able to use it perfectly within a day.”

off the top of one’s head

If you know something off the top of your head, it means you know it immediately without needing to look for the information in books, on the internet, etc.

“I don’t know the exact number off the top of my head, but I’d estimate that we spent about $400,000 on training for employees last year.”

on the back burner  

If a project is on the back burner, it means it is less important at the moment.

“The preliminary market analysis is on the back burner; I have some other projects that are taking priority.”

in the red / in the black

If a company is in the red, it means it is operating with debt. A company operating in the black means that it has a profit.

“Our company ended the year in the red with a debt of $5,000,000.”

ramp up

If you ramp up something, it means you increase it.

“We need to ramp up our efforts to find new customers.”

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