December 21, 2015

Swimming, Drowning and Buried in Work? What does it mean?

"We are swimming in approvals over here. Can you help us out?" 

"I'm drowning....I just can't seem to make it to the surface." 


"Accounting has requested us not to ask for any new P.O.s until next month as they are buried with approvals from last month that haven't been processed yet!" 


What do these statements or questions mean in a work context? We can't take them by their literal meaning. We could say that the figurative meanings of buried, swimming and drowning are synonyms. Let's take a look. 


"We are swimming in approvals over here. Can you help us out?" 

What does it mean to be swimming at work? Of course they are not actually swimming! Here, 'swimming' refers to being inundated with so many approvals they can't keep up. They are behind schedule, and there are approvals that are probably past due. 


"I'm drowning....I just can't seem to make it to the surface." 
Why would someone say they are drowning at work? Similar to 'swimming,' no one is actually drowning! Here, a colleague is overwhelmed. He or she has so many tasks to do, and probably every day new things are being added, so he or she feels unable to manage. 

"Accounting has requested us not to ask for any new P.O.s until next month as they are buried with approvals from last month that haven't been processed yet!" 

Is someone actually buried.... dead? No, no one is physically buried underground in a cemetery! Here, being buried means to have so many approvals to complete that there is no way to get caught up. A common picture in someone's mind when they hear this is that someone is sitting at a desk with so many files or piles of paper that we can't see their face! I found a fitting photo on flickr (courtesy, Kit) which shows too many requests coming into the inbox, but nothing moving to the outbox. 

Responding tips: 

When hearing colleagues use these phrases, it's ideal to respond with empathy before just requesting to get more tasks done. They are communicating they are overworked and stressed out. Sometimes, after listening to your colleague release a little steam, you may be able to help them prioritize your work, while putting other tasks on the back burner



Jennifer Kumar helps non-native English speakers communicate with more clarity in cross-cultural business meetings and daily interactions with Americans and other native English speakers through business communication and culture workshops. Contact us for more information.


Related Posts: 

Expressions and phrases using the word "work"
Difference between slang, idioms and phrasal verbs  
Uses and meaning of the phrase "I'll think about it"


Photo credits:

Man swimming in pool: Jay Kleeman@ flickr
Woman swimming in paperwork: Quinn Dombrowski@flickr

Man at desk with a lot of stuff in his inbox: Kit@ flickr

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