Year 2 / Issue 13 / In Rome Be a Roman / Part III / Mei Shao

In Rome, Be a Roman
Part III Workplace Phrases
By: Mei Shao


According to a recent survey, immigrants who adapt themselves better to Canadian culture tend to be more successful in their career. This may sound very simple, but what “being Canadian” actually means is a much more complicated subject on its own. Does it mean adding an “eh” at the end of each sentence? Does playing hockey make you Canadian? Does going to cottage make you Canadian? Not necessarily. In general, I think being Canadian would at least involve 3 things: English language, culture and open communication. These seemingly self-explanatory things are easier to be said than done, and may become even more difficult to comprehend in workplaces.


Here in Canada, as in many other cultures, workplaces often have their various “jargons” and cultures. It will take quite some time for newcomers to grasp them all, even with conscious efforts. Most of the workplace jargon stems from what you will hear either in a cubicle or around a water cooler. You can usually expect to hear this sort of language from co-workers or colleagues who are in your office. Depending on where you live (your geographic location) you may hear different variations of the jargon in the workplace. One of the most popular phrases that you might hear your boss say is “all hands on deck” or if a former supervisor was trying to get in contact with you then you might see the words “touching base” in an email or a memo.


In this issue, I have collected some workplace phrases not in an attempt to include all or as many as I can, but to sample a handful that are very commonly used or practiced. I hope you will find them interesting or even amusing.


  • Land and expand – This means to sell a small solution to a client and then once the solution has been sold, to expand upon the same solution in the client’s environment.

  • Blue sky thinking – This is a visionary idea without always having a practical application.

  • Think outside the box – This means to not limit your thinking; it encourages creativity with regard to your job description.

  • The helicopter view – This is simply an overview.

  • Get our ducks in a row – Order and organize everything efficiently and effectively.

  • Drink our own champagne – This means that a business will use the same product that they sell to their customers. The champagne is an indicator a good product.

  • End user perspective – This is basically what the customer thinks about a product or service. It also is an indicator of a how a client would feel after having used the product or service.

  • Pushing the envelope - This basically means to go outside of what is seen as normal corporate boundaries in order to attain a goal or secure a target.
  • Dress code – This could mean what type of clothing is acceptable on a regular business day; it can also mean what type of clothing is required on a particular occasion like a corporate Christmas party. A lot of companies observe casual Friday, when jeans and running shoes are acceptable.

  • Golden Handshake – A large payment made by a company to a senior executive upon termination of employment before his/her contract ends.
  • Duvet Day – A duvet day is a formal allowance of time off, given by some employers. It can be formally expressed in an employment contract as part of the remunerations package along with vacation days. The difference from a vacation day is that no prior notice is needed.  If an employee gets up in the morning and doesn’t want to go to work for any reason, he or she can use a “Duvet day”.
  • Job Shadowing – Job shadowing is a work experience option where new graduates or employees learn about a job by walking through the work day as a shadow to a competent worker. It is sometimes a temporary, unpaid exposure to the workplace in an occupational area of interests to the student. Or it can be part of a training program for a new hire.

As you can see, the aforementioned workplace jargon can seem familiar in that you may have heard such sayings in your own workplace. Yet, on the other hand, many may seem to be a bit different. It is not totally uncommon to hear “corporate speak” used in companies across the United States. At least now, when you do hear it, you will have a better idea as to what some of the phrases are referring to.

As much as it is important to understand workplace phrases, it is not suggested that you use workplace jargons just for the sake of using them. Always remember that they should be used appropriately and to the appropriate people. If you are facing a more general audience, make sure you define the terms used. Always treat your co-workers and colleagues respectfully and show sincere appreciation by using courtesy words. To learn even more about using appropriate language and about writing and speaking well in the workplace, you can even take a class or attend a workshop or seminar on communicating effectively in the business world. It is not just a challenge for immigrants, but for English speaking people as well.

Use appropriate language, following common courtesy, and you will make a good impression at your workplace.