10 American English Idioms Used at Work

Posted On: June 14, 2015

The below list highlights a small subset of idioms that could be used at workplaces in the USA. 

Go Into Battle 

Some may also say ‘This office is a battle zone.’ People use this when they are confronted with a new job, a series of familiar tasks that are overwhelming, or parts of a task that are challenging in some way or the other. Generally, Americans use this phrase to build up excitement over difficult or undesirable jobs as well. The spirit is ‘Yes, the job is hard, but we will not only meet the expectations but, we will exceed them. We will win.” 

Make you sweat 

Again, this is not meant to be taken literally. Though we may actually sweat when we are under pressure or ‘in the battle zone’, this idiom implies that there is a stress factor involved in the tasks that lay ahead of us. They will make us think or challenge us. But, again we shouldn’t shy away from them just because they are hard. 

Keep an eye on it 

This implies that we have to watch something carefully. In this episode, the undercover boss had to carefully watch machinery and products to make sure they were not being wasted.

Watch the video on YouTube.


Leave it to the professionals

This idiom implies two things. The first meaning is to allow those who are better trained with more experience do the job. The other meaning has a sarcastic and condescending tone. The implied meaning is “You are not doing this job well. Your performance doesn’t match other professionals with the same training. We don’t have patience with you. We will allow those better than you to take over.” If an employee hears this, as an American, he or she may feel sad, offended, or inept.


Write up 

A ‘write up’ is something an employee avoids. When an employee does bad work, is not performing up to expectations, breaks the rules, has problems with other employees, or has a bad attitude, the manager can ‘write him up’. This is a permanent written complaint put in the employee’s file that explains why he or she was misbehaving on the job. Employees want to avoid being written up. In some companies, there is a rule that a particular number of write ups can lead to suspension or loss of job (fired) depending on the situations for which one is written up.


Take your break 

No, no one is breaking anything! A break is a short time away from the normal duties of work when an employee can chat with others, have something to eat or drink, and relax a few minutes. Breaks are a predetermined amount of time and may vary depending on rules or convenience (may be 10 minutes). Taking prolonged and frequent breaks may be a cause for a write up.

Keep in mind that the area one takes a break in or outside an office building is called a “break room” or “break area”. In Kerala, India many companies call this space a “pantry” because it may also sell food. If you go to the US, and want to go to the “pantry” in the office, use the term “break room” as Americans do not use the word “pantry” in the office.


Cooped Up

Feeling “cooped up” implies being confined to a small space doing the same job over and over again. I think this idiom is derived from ‘chicken coops’ or small cages in which chicken are kept. Employees feel caged like a ‘chicken in a chicken coop’ hence, are ‘cooped up.’


Letting people go

This is a euphemism for firing someone.


Watch your attitude

This idiom will be told to a person with a bad attitude. “Watching your attitude” is nothing more than “controlling your behavior” and not showing frustration or negativity. Three more idioms that could fall into this category are found in this post.


Built for an office job

Being “built for” something means “suited for” something. Or, in another way, we can say based on that person’s skill and personality, he will perform better in another role.

Author, Jennifer Kumar helps prepare Indian teams to work more effectively with American counterparts.

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. 

Related Posts:  
Making Small Talk and Conversation with Americans 
Other ways to say “In the Loop” 
Conversation Connectors in English 


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