15 English work and people at work idioms

Learn natural Business English vocabulary to talk about work-related idioms and expressions. Awesome phrases for speaking.

Idioms with work

Look at work idioms below. What do you think they mean?

  • work like a dog
  • work out
  • work the system
  • work your socks off

Complete the sentences with work-related idioms:

When you work __ and work __, you work really hard. Stop working __ and go to a gym to work __. It’s not that difficult to stop and spend some time in a gym. It is really difficult to work __ because it is nearly impossible.

When do you work like a dog/your socks off? Have you ever worked the system?

Work idioms video activity

In the video Maria is explaining the idiom “Jack of all trades, master of none.” What do you think it means?

Watch the video. Which statements below are true and which are false?

Tom’s got a job

Maria is starting a blog

Jill is interested in customs and traditions

Listening and reading Advanced work idioms

The text is below

People at work idioms

Hi. I’m Rebecca from engVid. In today’s lesson you’ll have a chance to learn 10 expressions that are used to describe people at work. Now, these are quite commonly used expressions by native English speakers, so if you work in an English-speaking business environment then it’s quite likely that you will hear some of these expressions. Okay? Let’s get started. So, I’ve kind of divided them up for you. So, some of them are positive, some are negative, and some are neutral. What do I mean by that? It means: These people we are happy to meet, these people we are really not very happy to meet, and these people we just…Where it’s okay, we’re just using these expressions to describe them. Okay? We have no feelings, positive or negative. Okay.

A whiz kid

So let’s look at the people we are happy to meet. So, the first one is a “whiz kid”. What’s a whiz kid? A “whiz kid” is a term that we use to describe usually a young person who’s quite brilliant, very intelligent, very successful, very talented, and you know that he’s on a path to a lot of success. So, often we talk about like a computer whiz kid, a young person who’s got lots and lots of talent. You probably know people like that. Okay? So that’s a whiz kid. Next.

An eager beaver

Next one is called an “eager beaver”. An “eager beaver” is kind of a very hardworking, enthusiastic person. Maybe this person comes to work early and stays late, and they’re always smiling and they’re happy to do their work. That person is called an eager beaver. Now, I put that as a positive. Maybe some people don’t like them, but generally speaking, people like them. Okay.

An angel investor

The next one is an “angel investor”. What’s an angel investor? Well, if you have a startup company or a new company that you want to start, you would love to meet an angel investor because this “business angel”, as they’re also known as, is someone who’s usually rich and they’re like a sponsor and they put money into your business. They are ready to invest money into your ideas, into starting your company, and so on. So these are called “angel investors”. So if you want to start a business, you’re probably going to be very happy if you meet one of these people. Okay?

A smart aleck

Next, let’s move over here to the people that we’re usually not very happy to meet at work. The first one is called a “smart alec(k)”. Who’s a smart aleck? A “smart aleck” is somebody who thinks he or she knows everything. Have you ever met such a person? They are just so extra confident, and they tell you everything as if they know everything. And usually people aren’t very happy to meet those kind of people too much. Okay? And they called them “smart alecks”. Sometimes it’s written: “alec” and sometimes “aleck”, doesn’t matter. Usually we don’t write this word. We usually say it. Okay? “Oh, he’s a smart aleck. He thinks he knows everything.” Okay? That kind of thing.

A rotten apple

Next one: “rotten apple”. So, what’s a rotten apple? If you can imagine a bag of apples and in the middle there’s one that’s not good. “Rotten” means bad, spoiled. So what will happen to all the other apples around that bad apple? Well, after some time all of them will start to go bad a little faster. Right? So when we call someone a rotten apple we’re trying to suggest that this person has some rather unpopular, not very honest, is kind of dishonest, he’s bad, he’s corrupt, and he’s also influencing people around him, his colleagues or workers to think or act in the same way. So this person is usually quite a troublemaker as far as the organization is concerned. Okay? So that’s a rotten apple, a person who is kind of corrupt and has bad ideas, and is also influencing people around him or her in a negative way. Okay? You might know some people like that.

A faster talker

Okay, what’s a “faster talker”? Well, it’s not somebody who talks…Speaks very fast, no. When we say: “fast talker”, we mean somebody who is very good at convincing people and persuading people, but he’s not always…He or she is not always very honest or moral about it. He doesn’t really care…This person doesn’t really care if they’re selling you something which is not good, or which is actually bad. They don’t care. They may lie, they may present it as very good. They’re very good at that, but they’re not necessarily selling you something in your interest. It doesn’t have to be a salesperson, but often we refer to salespeople like that because sometimes they’re trying to sell us something which is not good, although many salespeople are selling us good things. Okay. So that’s a fast talker.

A head honcho

Now let’s come to some which are kind of neutral, they just describe different people. All right? The first one is: “head honcho”. So the word “head” gives you an idea. The head honcho is like the main guy at the top of the company, a top executive, the person in charge, and this person has a lot of authority, responsibility, and influence. Okay? “Head honcho”, that’s the name for that person. Okay.

A number cruncher

Next one, the “number cruncher”. Who’s a number cruncher? You probably have some people
like that in your company. You have to have, because “number crunchers” are people who work with numbers a lot, finance people. Right? They are number crunchers, and they’re…They don’t just work with numbers, they’re really good with numbers. They know how to analyze numbers and understand numbers, and not everybody does, but they do. So these guys are called
number crunchers. Okay.

A pen pusher

Another one here: “pen pusher”. Sometimes also known as a “pencil pusher”. So, this is just a regular employee, maybe a clerk who has a rather boring job just filling out forms, doing ordinary clerical administrative work. Not very interesting, but of course it’s necessary in organizations to have a lot of people who are pen pushers. So sometimes a pen pusher is also used to refer to someone who just has a boring job. Okay? All right.

A whistle blower

And the last one we have
here is: “whistle blower”. So, what’s a whistle blower? Well, I put it in the neutral column. Some people think whistle blowers are very good, and some people think whistle blowers are really bad. It depends who you are and who’s looking at the whistle blower, because a whistle blower is a person on the inside of a company who becomes aware, he starts to know that there is something illegal or improper or immoral or something wrong that the company is doing or that is going on within the company, and then that person informs the police or the authorities that such activity is going on inside the company. So, he blows the whistle on these activities. Okay? Just like a referee will stop a game if something is wrong. Okay? So that person is a whistle blower.

People at work discussing ideas


Now, I know we did a lot of them, but let’s see if you remember some of them. So, what’s a rotten apple? What’s a rotten apple? Is it something good? No, we know that. So this is someone who influences people around them in a bad way. Okay? If you have a business, if you have a new business, who would you be very happy to meet, especially if you need money to start your business, to launch your business? That would be an angel investor. Okay? Good. Now, if you need to understand some statements and analyze numbers, who are you going to go to in your company? Probably a number cruncher. Right, really good. Who’s that very smart, young person who just joined the company, he’s so brilliant, everybody’s talking about him, he’s so talented? That’s the whiz kid. Okay? Good. What about somebody who’s trying to sell you something and he doesn’t care if it’s actually true or not, and he’s really good at convincing people? Who’s that? That’s the fast talker. Okay? Who’s the person who informs the police that something improper is happening within the company? Who’s that? That’s a whistle blower. Which poor person has a really kind of boring job, filling out forms, doing very routine, clerical work? That is a pen pusher or a pencil pusher. What’s the name of the top guy in the company who has…? Or woman who has…? Sometimes in English when we say “guy” it actually refers to a man or woman. Okay? So men or women. Who’s the top person in a company that has a lot of authority and influence? This is the head honcho. Okay. So, now, the important thing is we’ve gone through it once. I…Maybe you’re taking notes. But what you can do is if you go to our website, http://www.engvid.com, you can do two things there. First you can do a quiz on this. Okay? So that will help you-right?-to practice and get a little bit better. And the second thing is that I have written for you a resource where all the meanings of these are given, and there are many, many more, there’s probably around 50 such terms that are used in business which you can download for free from our resource section. Okay? That way you can learn these and also practice a lot more expressions like that. Okay? Thanks for watching. Good luck with your English.

15 Work idioms and expressions

work like a dog
work out
work the system
work your socks off
a whiz kid
an eager beaver
an angel investor
a smart aleck
a rotten apple
a faster talker
a head honcho
a number cruncher
a pen pusher
a whistle blower
Jack of all trades, master of none

Learn more idioms about people at work and do exercises!

What character traits do you need to be successful at work? Learn more with Reese Witherspoon video lesson on personality!

Please, leave a comment if you have any tips or questions about this business vocabulary.

Find more English lessons on our website.


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