10 American English Expressions to Talk About Coworkers and Work

Work can be stressful, which is why human beings invented chatting, gossiping, and complaining, right? And knowing how to talk about your coworkers and colleagues in English can also help you sound more natural and fluent.

The great thing about knowing how to talk about work and coworkers in English is that you’ll learn how to talk about other people outside of work, too.

So today, we’re going to take a look at these ten American expressions about work and the people we work with:

  1. Suck up

  2. Drives me up the wall. 

  3. Down-to-earth

  4. Micromanager

  5. Have a short fuse

  6. Bug someone

  7. Toxic

  8. Slack off

  9. Sketchy

  10. A partner in crime

If you’re ready to boost your work and personal vocabulary in English, grab a pen and notebook for taking notes, and let’s get into it.


1. Suck up

When we suck up to someone, we treat someone a little too nicely and make them feel good just because we want something from them.

It’s not a flattering term, and it’s something you’ll probably hear and use more when you gossip about someone else. Not that you’re going to gossip, right? And the truth is that some managers and bosses like it when you suck up to them, and they don’t care if it’s not genuine. 


  • I don’t like the way she sucks up to him.

  • She’s only giving you the job because you’ve been sucking up to her.

Common structure

  • suck up + to → He’ll be nice to you if you suck up to him.

Note: We can also call a person a suck-up, and in this case, it is a noun.


  • Ugh, he’s such a suck-up!

2. Drives me up the wall

You can say that something drives you up the wall when it makes you feel crazy with annoyance or anger.

Sometimes our coworkers and bosses can drive us up the wall when they have too many demands or when they have a specific annoying characteristic that just gets on your nerves. Again, this is an expression you should reserve for a time when you’re complaining about someone to your friend or coworker in private. Honestly, sometimes complaining is the only way to relieve your stress when someone is driving you up the wall.


  • He’s driving me up the wall right now with all his emails!

  • They drove me up the wall last year during the project.

Common structure

  • Drive me up the wall + with → She’s driving me up the wall with her loud music.

3. Down-to-earth

We can describe someone as down-to-earth when they’re practical, genuine, and easy to be around.

A down-to-earth coworker or manager is easy to work with because they don’t put their own ambitions over the team’s goals, and they would never do anything dishonest to get what they want. You can trust a superior or boss who is down-to-earth because they’re always going to be honest with you and value you for doing good work.


  • She’s the most down-to-earth person in this office.

  • My new boss is much more down-to-earth than my last one.

4. Micromanager

A micromanager is someone who likes to have a lot of control over every little thing people do, and we don’t consider this to be a positive attribute.

If you’ve ever had a boss who was a micromanager, you know how stressful it can be to make them happy. It’s okay to support, help, and exchange ideas with your employees or with your team. Still, it’s not okay to micromanage people, or they will feel like they’re incapable of making their own decisions or offering their ideas. 


  • The principal of our school is kind of a micromanager.

  • We’ll never get better if she keeps being such a micromanager.

Note: We can also use micromanage as a verb.

Micromanage + someone → I just wish she would stop micromanaging me.


5. Have a short fuse

Someone who has a short fuse gets angry easily and quickly.

And at work, where there are plenty of opportunities for stress and anxiety, having a short fuse won’t make you easy to work with. It can be hard to reason with someone who has a short fuse, which makes it hard to get things accomplished.

If you have a short fuse, make sure to have a plan in place when you get angry: take a bathroom break, take a short walk around the office, go outside, or have a cup of tea in silence. We can’t always help getting angry, but we can control how we deal with it.


  • Nina has such a short fuse these days. I wonder what’s wrong.

  • He’s a good person, but he has a short fuse.

Common structure

  • Have + such + a short fuse → He has such a short fuse. It’s unbelievable.

6. Bug someone

To bug someone means to bother or annoy them about something.

Your boss can bug you with too many emails asking about your progress. They can also bug you to order new supplies for the office. Your coworker can bug you by trying to tell you a story about their summer holiday when you’re trying to work.

Things can bug you, too, like the fact that you have to work overtime on a Friday night. Or maybe you’re bugged by the fact that you’re too easy to bug. 


  • He’s been bugging me to arrange a meeting. 

  • I don’t want to bug them while they’re on the phone.

Common structure

  • Bug someone + about → I hate to bug you about this, but it’s important.

  • Bug someone + with → She always bugs me with her personal problems.

  • Bug someone + to → Is he still bugging you to write that letter?

  • Keep + bugging someone + to/with/about → He keeps bugging me to go to the conference with him.

7. Toxic

Toxic means “poisonous,” but we can also use it to describe people.

You can describe someone as toxic if they make others feel unhappy, and if they cause harm to others. Toxic people are often manipulative and controlling, and unfortunately, there are plenty of toxic people in the professional world.

You can also describe a workplace as toxic, which means that a few people contribute to a harmful environment or system.


  • He had a lot of toxic coworkers in his previous job.

  • I hate to say it, but she’s kind of a toxic person.

Common structure

  • Toxic + person → My old business partner was a toxic person.

  • Toxic + workplace → I’ve heard that it’s kind of a toxic workplace.

  • Toxic + environment → It sounds like a toxic environment. You should leave.


8. Slack off

You can say that someone is slacking off if they’re not working as hard as they used to or if they are not working as hard as they are expected to work.

If you feel like your coworker is slacking off, it’s okay to give them feedback, but you have to be specific. Don’t just say, “You’ve been slacking off lately.” Make sure you have data points to back up your claim, such as, “You’ve been showing up late a lot recently” or “You’ve missed the last two deadlines.” Ask what’s going on, and figure out why they’ve been slacking off. If someone is slacking off, it might not mean they’re lazy. They might just need a break.


  • He’s starting to slack off lately. I hope he’s okay.

  • Frankly, you’ve been slacking off these days, and I’m worried about you.

9. Sketchy

You can describe someone as sketchy if they seem untrustworthy and suspicious, but you can’t prove it for sure.

We can use it to describe particular behavior as well, so someone who usually seems normal can act a little sketchy. This is an informal expression, so if your boss asks you your opinion about your team member or colleague, don’t say they’re sketchy. But, you might use it when you’re chatting about your sketchy manager after work hours.


  • Our new boss seems kind of sketchy to me.

  • She acted really sketchy after the meeting.

Common structures

  • A little + sketchy → He’s been acting a little sketchy lately.

  • Kind of + sketchy → She seems kind of sketchy. Do you agree?

10. A partner in crime

If someone is your partner in crime, it means they’re a good friend and someone that you do things with, even if other people disapprove of that thing.

Sometimes work can be a tough place, and we all need a partner in crime who sees things the way we do. A partner in crime might even be useful to take your side or back you up in a meeting. 


  • This is my partner in crime, Annie.

  • I miss my old colleague David. He was my partner in crime.


What are some things I can do to practice these my new vocabulary?

1. Start an English conversation group with your coworkers.

You’ll find that it’s easier to make progress with your English if you have others to hold you accountable. And if you can get a small group of your colleagues who are serious enough to meet and learn after work. If it’s possible, you can ask to use a conference room or meeting room after work hours as long as no one else needs it. Or you can meet in a cafe nearby, or even online on Zoom or Skype.

 It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment; you can try to meet once a week for forty-five minutes to an hour. And it doesn’t have to be a huge money commitment either. You can charge people a small fee if your group has expenses, but you don’t have to. And, if you can’t find a teacher to help run the group, you can always meet with a teacher for a one-time consultation to give you advice about how to run your group.

2. Write a workplace dialogue.

Imagine two or three of your coworkers are having an informal conversation in English. If you need ideas, here are a couple of writing prompts:

  • One of your coworkers has a juicy piece of gossip, but they want the other two people to try to guess what he has to tell them.

  • Two of your coworkers decide to talk to another coworker about how he has been slacking off lately.

  • One of your coworkers is giving two new hires the “real tour” of the company, which means they’re going to tell them the things that other coworkers won’t tell them.

3. Keep an English diary about your coworkers.

If you’re trying not to complain or gossip at work, you still need an outlet. Keeping a journal or diary in English about the fun, hilarious, annoying, and weird things that happen at work will help you get all those feelings off your chest – and you’ll improve in the process.

Whatever you do to improve your English, find something that interests you and challenges you. Think outside of the box!



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About the Writer

Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.

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