Here is a list of 101 business idioms that are commonly used in the corporate world. Each idiom is clearly explained with a definition and an example of practical usage.
Back to square one
To get back to from where it started
We went back to square one after wasting two full days.
Back to the drawing board
To start from the beginning, all over again
We went back to the drawing board after our plan was rejected.
People who do important work but aren't visible to general public
He resented being a backroom boy when Dave took all the credit.
Ball park figure
A rough estimate
Can you give me a ballpark figure as to what this project will cost?
Bang for the buck
Something that gives you more value than the money you spent
Online ads provide more bang for the buck than TV commercials.
Someone who does manual labor work
Joe is a blue-collar worker at the company warehouse.
The final total of the account or the ultimate deciding factor
I don't need any details. All I care about is the bottom line.
Loss of an educated workforce to other geographic locations
France suffered a brain drain during the economic crisis.
To have no profit or loss at the end of a business activity
It took us two years just to break even.
Spending your time doing the same thing you do at work
The painter spent busman's holiday
painting his own house.
By the book
Strictly according to the rules
Rules are not to be broken - Barb does everything by the book.
Call it a day
To stop working and go home
Let’s call it a day and go home.
Call the shots
To make the important decisions
Who calls the shots when the boss is out of town?
A consistently profitable business or product
That line of leather shoes is a real cash cow.
To agree to something, you didn't want to accept previously
The management caved in to the demands of the union.
Climb the corporate ladder
Work your way up to higher positions in a company
He quickly climbed the corporate ladder to become CEO.
A call made without an appointment to sell something
Sales people were handed a list of numbers to cold-call.
Cook the books
Alter facts or figures dishonestly or illegally
The mafia boss forced the accountants to cook the books.
Corner a market
To dominate a market or business
She cornered the market and put two competitors out of business.
Crack the whip
Threatening people to make them work harder
Joe's father had to crack the whip to make him study harder.
Cream of the crop
The best person in a group
Google hires the cream of the crop graduates.
Crunch the numbers
Do a lot of math calculations to make a decision
They crunched the numbers before buying that new property.
Cut a deal
To reach an agreement
Her agent cut a deal giving her 30% of the profits.
Skip certain steps in order to do
something as easily or cheaply
Don't hurry. You cannot cut corners if you want to do a perfect job.
Cut to the chase
Get to the point quickly
Joan was very busy, so I cut to the chase and told her the fact.
Very fierce and intense
There is a cut-throat competition to gain the market share.
Dead end job
A job where there is no chance of promotion
I am in a dead-end job and looking for a new opportunity.
Someone or something that is no longer useful
She cleared out the dead wood as
soon as she took over.
Elephant in the room
A huge problem that no one wants to talk about
Debt crises is the elephant in the room that no one is talking about.
The last minute
Eric always waits until the eleventh hour before starting a project.
Important details usually printed in
tiny letters in a contract
Read the fine print before you sign the contract.
Foot in the door
The first step toward a goal by gaining entry into an organization
She got her foot in the door working as a researcher on a TV show.
From the ground up
Starting from the very beginning
Let’s start working on the project from the ground up.
Plan of action or a strategy
We need a new game plan for the upcoming season.
Get down to business
Start doing things that need to be done
Let’s get down to business first; we can eat lunch later.
Get The ball rolling
To begin an activity or a process
She tried to get the ball rolling by asking a few questions.
An unofficial or social barrier to advancement in a profession
She crushed the glass ceiling to be the first woman president.
Go Through the Roof
To increase much more than expected
He is rich now because his commissions have gone through the roof.
Special benefits offered to keep an employee from leaving
They hired her with a pair of golden handcuffs.
A large amount paid as an incentive for early retirement
The new owners offered all employees a golden handshake.
An employment contract that guarantees great benefits if fired
She is not afraid of getting fired because of the golden parachute.
A situation in which it is difficult to distinguish between right & wrong
At the moment, the law on compensation is very much a grey area.
Have your work cut out
Accomplish a difficult task in a short time
He will have his work cut out to get into the team.
To recruit the best people for top-level positions
A rival company headhunted her.
To inform or warn about something beforehand
Please give me a heads up if there is any change.
Hit the nail on the head
To give a perfectly correct answer
Tom hit the nail on the head when analyzing the problem.
In deep trouble
The company is in hot water because of the declining sales
In a nutshell
A brief summary or in a few words
Tell me in a nutshell what happened in the meeting.
In the black
A person/organization that is making a profit
We're in the black but we aren't making much money yet.
In the nick of time
To arrive just in time
In the red
A person/organization that is losing money
We were in the red for two whole years.
In the works
In development; coming soon
Our new product is in the works.
Jack of all trades
Someone who can do many different jobs
We need someone who is the jack of all trades for this position.
Final annoyance that causes you to get angry
He got fired because he skipped the meeting; it was the last straw.
Learn the ropes
Learn how to do a job or activity
It takes a while to learn the ropes in a new job.
The amount of time it takes to learn a new skill
It was a steep learning curve for him as he had no prior experience.
Very slim chance of succeeding
I know it's a long shot, but it's worth trying.
Prolonged time and effort
It's going to be a long-haul before the company becomes profitable.
Movers and shakers
People with a lot of power and influence in a particular field
All the movers and shakers of the industry have their offices here.
An easy decision that doesn't require much thought
Buying this product at such a discount is a complete no brainer.
No strings attached
No special conditions or restrictions
The investment offers 15% interest with no strings attached.
Off the top of your head
From memory without much careful consideration
Off the top of my head, the cost was pretty reasonable.
On the back burner
A low priority matter that is put aside for the time being
It's not an urgent issue, lets put it on the back burner for now.
On the same page
Agree with someone on a specific issue
Regarding the offer both partners are on the same page.
Out of the loop
Unaware of the information or an event
I am always out of the loop of the office gossip.
Pencil someone in
To make a tentative appointment
I'll pencil you in for Friday afternoon at 2:00 pm.
Ask for ideas and opinions
I was picking her brain about which
computer to buy.
Firm and ruthless in getting what you want
He's a nice guy, but he can play hardball
when he needs to.
Play second fiddle
To be less important or in a weaker
position than someone else
I'm not prepared to play second fiddle
to Joe anymore.
An easy job that pays well
Joe found a plum job using his family connections.
Pull the plug
To stop or to discontinue
The management pulled the plug on long lunch breaks.
Read between the lines
Look for the meaning that was suggested indirectly
Reading between the lines is necessary for complex negotiations.
Excessive rules/regulations that make it hard to do business
Those new laws just create a lot of red tapes.
Rock the boat
To disrupt a situation or cause problems
Don't rock the boat until the
negotiations have ended.
Round the clock
24 hours a day
We were working round the clock during the exhibition.
Rule of thumb
A guiding principle based on experience and common sense.
As a rule of thumb, each client should have a separate file.
Something that is very likely to happen
It is a safe bet that the current owners will not sell.
To be in the same difficult situation
None of us has any money, so we’re all in the same boat.
A skill so ingrained that you do it without even thinking
Typing becomes second nature after a while.
Selling Like Hotcakes
Sell something very quickly that many people want to buy
I need another load of scanners because they are selling like hotcakes.
Set the record straight
Give the true version of events that have been reported incorrectly
Let me set the record straight about what really happened.
To end a relationship or an agreement
The company severed ties with their supplier.
Shape up or ship out
A warning to perform well or leave
The management warned the employees to shape up or ship out.
Show the ropes
Show someone how to do a job or activity
Michael will take you around and show you the ropes.
Perform unproductively and lazily
Employees tend to slack off on Fridays.
Informal conversation about things
that are not important
Guests stood with their drinks, making small talk about the weather.
Discuss work-related issues in off-work social situations
Let's not talk shop outside office hours.
Test the water
Try something out to see if it works or not
I'd like to test the water first before committing myself.
The ball is in your court
It's up to you to make the next move.
We answered all their questions, so now the ball is in their court
The big picture
To get an overview of the entire situation
Joe never loses sight of the big picture.
Think outside the box
Explore ideas that are different and non-traditional
He is trying to think outside the box to make this event a success.
Throw in the towel
To admit defeat
After struggling for years, the company finally threw in the towel.
Thrown in the deep end
Put into a difficult situation without any preparation
Lynda was thrown in the deep end right from the first day of her job.
Make a brief contact to discuss something
Just wanted to touch base to make sure everything is fine.
Under the table
Something was done secretly and illegally
They offered him money under the table to change his mind.
Up in the air
Still not decided
The board meeting is still up in the air.
Someone who does office work
Jane left the factory for a white-collar position in a local bank.
A favorable outcome for everyone involved
The compromise was a win-win situation for everyone.
Word of mouth
Oral informal communication between people
Word of mouth is one of the best ways of getting business
Writing on the wall
Clear signs that something bad is about to happen
I can see the writing on the wall that this company is doomed.