If your job involves speaking English, then you are guaranteed to come across idioms at some point, especially work idioms.
You might hear idioms for working hard, teamwork, or being lazy and not doing enough work! Therefore, it’s important to know the difference in meaning so you can respond appropriately.
Here we have listed the most useful idioms about work, along with example sentences and definitions.
Idioms for working hard
Make light work of it
Let’s start out these working idioms with a positive one. When you have a job to do and make light work of it, you have done it without fuss, quickly, and with ease.
“The new guy in accounting really made light work of the annual report.”
There are loads more easy idioms you can use to describe things that happen easily.
Teamwork makes the dream work
This is a fun saying about working hard. If you want to motivate your team, try using the expression teamwork makes the dream work to say that working together will help them reach the project goal.
“Come on everyone – let’s work together as teamwork makes the dream work.”
The devil finds/makes work for idle hands
Although a very popular idiom in workplaces, you may also hear parents tell their children that the devil finds works for idle hands. People say this when you’re not doing anything and should find something to do.
The reason for this is that people with nothing productive to do may find something to do that causes trouble.
“There’s always something to do on the shop floor as the devil finds work for idle hands.”
Many hands make light work
Along the same lines of ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, to express that many hands make light work means that the more people are involved, the easier the job is.
“We’re all going to have to work together to hit the deadline, but many hands make light work.”
There are many other teamwork idioms along this line further down the list, but also one that means the exact opposite!
Only fools and horses work
You may have heard this shortened saying from the popular British TV show ‘Only Fools and Horses‘. It’s a fun way of saying that you are silly for working so hard, as only foolish people or workhorses put in so much effort!
“I can’t believe I’m working another double shift again – I guess only fools and horses work this hard!”
Animal idioms really are a fun way to describe many situations.
Work like a dog
Here comes another animal idiom about working hard. In fact, to work like a dog is just that – to work hard.
“No one appreciates me here even though I work like a dog.”
Did you know there are loads more dog idioms in English?
Work your fingers to the bone
Let’s continue the theme of working hard with a different expression. Again, if you’re working hard – very hard – you are working your fingers to the bone.
“Gosh you really are going to work your fingers to the bone if you carry on like this.”
This list so far has included fingers and hands due to the fact that body parts make great idioms. For more inspiration and explanations, we have a full list of body idioms to look through.
Work your socks off
This is the first time we’ll mention socks in this compilation of hard work idioms but keep a look out for the second time further down. The first example, to work your socks off, yet again means to work very hard.
“The only way I’ll get this promotion is if I work my socks off.”
More working idioms
Movers and shakers
Most people know a few movers and shakers. These are people who have a lot of power or influence in their industry and are known for getting things done (in a positive way).
“If you want to get anywhere in politics you have to know a few movers and shakers.”
These kinds of people could also be described as friends in high places. Read our article about friend idioms to learn more about this.
Burn the candle at both ends
Working hard is not always a good thing. When you burn the candle at both ends you are working too hard, normally from early in the morning to late at night. This means you are trying to do too many things in the day and are not getting enough sleep.
“I’m not sure how long Susie can keep working like this. She’s first in and the last out every day. Burning the candle at both ends isn’t good for her.”
A similar expression is burning the midnight oil, which means you are working or studying late into the night. Find some more nighttime idioms with similar meanings in our separate article.
Go the extra mile
When you do extra work, more than is expected of you, then your colleagues may say you go the extra mile.
“I love the new guy in the team. He always goes the extra mile to make sure we get the job done.”
Show/Teach someone the ropes
When you start a new job, someone needs to show or teach you the ropes. This means to show you around, introduce you to people, and help you get started.
“Thanks for teaching me the ropes today, Alex. I feel much more settled now.”
There are many other teacher idioms that can apply in the workplace.
Let’s put a pin in it
Imagine a work noticeboard with lots of information pinned up. This is where this American English saying comes from (although it’s now used a little in British English too). You’re suggesting that the topic be pinned up on an imaginary noticeboard to be talked about at a later time or date.
So, when you want to move on or change a discussion topic and pick it up later, you could say let’s put a pin in it.
‘That’s a great idea and we should discuss it later, so let’s put a pin in it for now.”
If you find these work idioms helpful then you may also enjoy some business idioms. These kinds of expressions are commonly heard in the workplace.
Put your heads together
Quite a few head idioms are about thinking and coming up with ideas and solutions.
When two or more people put their heads together, they work collaboratively to brainstorm ideas or solve a problem. This can be a helpful thing to do when you’re at work.
“Let’s put our heads together and see if we can work out how to fix this.”
Too many cooks spoil the broth / soup
This and the next working idiom (although they are technically proverbs) go together well. Sometimes if too many people are involved in a project, it doesn’t succeed or go as well as hoped.
“I think the teams are too big and it’s getting too complicated. Sometimes too many cooks spoil the soup.”
This is the opposite of many hands make light work, which we talked about earlier. Sometimes you have to find the right balance between too many and too few people!
Too many chiefs, not enough Indians
This time we are talking about things going wrong as there are too many people in charge and not enough people actually doing the job. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is a nice way of saying ‘too many bosses and managers and not enough workers’!
“It’s all well and good the managers setting these targets, but sometimes there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”
Do be aware that the term ‘Indians’ is an outdated way of referring to the Indigenous peoples of America. ‘Native American’ and ‘American Indian’ are more culturally sensitive terms to use, depending on the people group in question. Therefore, you may want to avoid using this idiom yourself.
If you are extremely busy, you could use this phrase to emphasize how much work you have to do.
It does have a more literal meaning: if it has snowed a lot and perhaps you can’t see your car, you may say that it’s snowed under.
“Sorry my love, I’m not going to make it home for dinner as I’m snowed under at worked.”
Pull your weight
When you are working in a team it’s important that you do your fair share of the work. This way the team won’t have to ‘carry’ you, cover for you or work harder to compensate for your laziness. You must pull your (own) weight – do what is required of you.
“I don’t want to be part of Tim’s team as he never pulls his weight!”
Pull your socks up
Here is our second sock-related saying about working. This expression is often used in schools as teachers encourage pupils to work harder.
You could also find your boss or family members will tell you to pull your socks up if you need to do more work. However, it can also mean that you need to improve your attitude or performance.
“If you want to pass the exam you’ll have to pull your socks up!”
Discover some more idioms about learning to get you motivated!
Pull a few strings
The expression pull a few strings is mainly used in business; however, it can apply any time you need to get a goal accomplished quickly. It means that you call in a favor from someone or use your own influence to make something happen.
“Ok, don’t worry about it. I’ll pull a few strings and get it sorted out.”
“Let’s ask Hugh if he can pull a few strings to get this moving.”
All work and no play
This work idiom is more about not working! The full version, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, suggests that working too much makes you an uninteresting person and that you should relax a little and enjoy life.
“Mike, it’s Friday night let’s go out and enjoy ourselves. All work and no play isn’t good for anyone.”
Many of the idioms about work listed here can apply not just to working at a job, but many other situations where teamwork is required. For example, you might be part of a sports team or collaborating with classmates in an educational setting.
Try to pick one or two of these phrases and see if you can slip them into your conversation today!