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Being familiar with common phrases at the workplace will help you fit in sooner and more easily. As students across Canada gear up to start new jobs this summer, the focus is on making the best first impressions possible.

Particularly for international newcomers, the prospect of navigating the Canadian workplace for the first time can be especially challenging. So whether you’re just taking a job for the summer vacation period, or looking for your first full-time post-graduate position, here is a “crash course” list of phrases you might hear in the typical Canadian work-place. Although many of the words are basic English, they’re phrases that often have separate work-place meanings beyond their literal translations. After all, the more “lingo” you know going in, the easier it will be to “start off on the right foot”!
Crash course: A quick run-down, explanation, or introduction to something, providing just the basic information. If your colleagues give you a ‘crash course’ on how to use the company printer/scanner/copier, they’re probably just going to show you the on/off switch and start buttons, not how to change the toner or format pages.

All hands on deck: Every-one is expected to pitch in or participate (or at least be ready to do so if called upon) – usually in response to an important project, event, or client the company is involved with.

Follow up: To check back in (usually via phone or e-mail) with something or someone. For exam-ple, it is always a good idea to ‘follow up’ (ie, send a quick e-mail) thanking someone for their time after you’ve gone in for a job interview. You might also be asked to ‘follow up’ with someone you are waiting for an important response from.Your boss wants you to ‘hit the ground running’, they want you to start the project right away, working at full speed to get it done.
Think outside the box: To think creatively, find new ideas, and go beyond traditional solu-tions. Companies are constantly wanting their employees to ‘think outside the box’.

Touch base: To get in contact with.

Reach out to so-and-so: If you’re ‘reaching out’ to someone in the business world, you’re contacting them with some purpose, usually making them an offer, looking for information, or trying to ensure a collaboration.

Cascading: Sometimes used to describe the dissemination or passing down of information within the office/company set-ting. “The public relations representative said she would be cascading down new information to staff.”

Ramp up: Increase efforts.

Start off on the right foot: Begin positively.

Put your nose to the grind-stone: Concentrate 100 per cent and work hard.

Gear up: Get ready and be prepared.

Keep on your toes: Be constantly aware of what is going on around you, and be ready to make changes at any time. If someone says they’re going to ‘keep you on your toes’, get ready for a challenge.
Team effort: Everyone works together, and (ideally) every-one shares credit for the work.

Get on the same page: If people are not on the same page, it usually means they have different understandings, opinions, or goals involving the same issue. Therefore, to get on the same page, they would have to come to a mutual understanding on the issue.

Someone dropped the ball: Also, “someone messed up”. If a colleague or boss singles out an individual as having ‘dropped the ball’, they are typically blaming a project’s failure or mistakes on that one person. Hopefully, this person is not you.

Cash cow: Refers to a client, product, or resource that both pays for itself and generates a lot of extra, ‘easy’ money.

Work/life balance: Someone who has good work/life balance gets all their work done within the prescribed amount of work time (8 to 5, or whatever their office hours are) and can therefore relax and concentrate on other things (personal life) in their off-time. Companies may encourage this balance in order to keep their employees from ‘burning out’ (see next term).

Burning out: When some-one is overworked or overstressed, and no longer able to function to their full potential, they are often referred to as ‘burnt out’.

Casual Fridays: Some offices offer employees the opportunity to dress casually on Fridays, often as a form of fundraiser – pay a dollar toward a charity and wear jeans to work.

CYA: Acronym referring to ‘Cover Your Ass’. In other words, acting in a way that will help protect you and/or your company from being blamed if something goes wrong.

WYSIWYG: Pronounced ‘wizzy-wig’, this is short for ‘What You See Is What You Get’. Some-times used to describe a person who is very upfront about things.

The pilot or pilot phase: The first attempt or test run of a project – usually a smaller version of it – which takes place in the development phase in order to identify any final adjustments that need to be made before the final project begins.

Iron out the kinks: To identify and fix any problems.

We’re in the same boat: A phrase used to compare situations. In other words, if someone says they are in the same boat as you, it means that they feel the two of you are in a similar situation, or are facing similar challenges.

If the shoe fits: Although something might not be an obvious or ideal match/solution, you can still make it work, “if the shoe fits”.

Let’s get down to brass tacks: In other words, ‘let’s get down to basics’ – meaning, break what you’re working on or discussing down to its essential components or basic elements.

I’ve got a lot on my plate: In other words, “I’ve got a lot of things to do”.

I’m totally swamped/slammed: Similar to saying “I’ve got a lot on my plate”, if your co-worker describes themselves as “totally swamped” it usually means they feel like they have more work to do than time in which to complete it.

Add value: Make a project more productive or positive, usually without involving additional expenses.

No-show: Someone who doesn’t turn up for a meeting and/or work, without previously communicating it.

Time-stealer or time-suck: Someone who wastes other colleagues’ time with unproductive, long conversations and/or pointless meetings. In other words, something you do not want to be.

Mat-leave or pat-leave: Referring to maternity or paternity leave (ie, the employee or their partner have had a baby). In Canada, this leave can legally last up to one year.

Get all our ducks in a row: Organize or ‘line up’ everything.

It’s like herding cats: Some-times used to describe a difficult, chaotic task, such as trying to organize a group of people who don’t want to listen to instructions.

ARWEN KIDD currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.

Posted: May 2, 2012

April 2019

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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