12 English idioms about jobs and going to work to improve your writing

  • You probably don’t want a dead-end job when you’re older, but you might want to break through the glass ceiling – but what do those terms mean?
  • Here are a dozen terms about employment you can use in essays and when talking about office life
Wong Tsui-kai |
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Talk the job talk with these useful idioms.

Work is such a big part of adult life, so it only makes sense that there are lots of idioms related to jobs. Here are some of the most common work idioms in case you ever find yourself in a “water cooler chat” – a casual conversation among colleagues that usually takes place during a break near the water dispenser.

Bang-up job

Meaning: Very good or excellent work.

Example: “For someone in their first week at our company, she sure did a bang-up job,” the manager said.

Day job

Meaning: A person’s regular job and main source of income, as opposed to a more enjoyable pastime or hobby which does not pay as well.

Example: He is a DJ at the weekend, but teaching is his day job.

Dead-end job

Meaning: A job which does not offer any chance of promotion or advancement.

Example: Despite having a degree in English literature, he got stuck in a dead-end job at an insurance company.

Glass ceiling

Meaning: An invisible barrier that prevents some people, mainly women and minorities, from being promoted.

Example: Camilla knew she would never become a company director – she wouldn’t be able to get through the glass ceiling.

Golden handshake / golden parachute

Meaning: A golden handshake refers to a big payment made to people when they leave their job. A “golden parachute” is a large payment made to a senior company executive who has been forced to leave their job.

Example: The company is laying off 20 workers who will receive a golden handshake.

Hatchet job

Meaning: A fierce written or spoken attack on someone or their work that aims to destroy their reputation.

Example: The reporter really did a hatchet job on the legislative councillor who resigned over the scandal.

23 time idioms to make your writing more interesting

Hatchet man

Meaning: A hatchet man is someone who is employed to do unpleasant things, such as firing people. The idiom has darker origins when men with hatchets (small axes) or other weapons were employed to resolve disagreements between people.

Example: The city’s economy is in recession and many people have lost their jobs. The hatchet man has been very busy.

Inside job

Meaning: A crime committed by someone in the place where they work.

Example: It turns out the bank robbery was an inside job – the manager helped the gang steal the money.

Laid off / lay-off

Meaning: This is when a company tells workers to leave their jobs, usually because there is no work for them any more. This can happen when a company is cutting costs or there is a management change.

Example: My friend, who works in a restaurant, was laid off recently.

Nine-to-five

Meaning: Used to describe work that begins at 9am and ends at 5pm, usually from Monday to Friday. The term generally implies a stable job in an office.

Example: If you are looking for a nine-to-five, a government job would be the thing for you.

Sacked / get the sack

Meaning: To be suddenly fired from a job. Similar terms used include fired, axed, booted, canned, shown the door, sent packing and let go.

Example: She got the sack because she was always late.

Work-to-rule

Meaning: A form of protest where employees only do what they are expected to and nothing more, in order to slow down production. This is less extreme than a strike, which means to stop working completely.

Example: Many students arrived late at school as they were badly affected by a work-to-rule by bus drivers.

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