Human Resources Vocabulary

Here we look at many common expressions and vocabulary you might find in the Human Resources sector.


When someone does things ‘by the book’, they follow the rules strictly. Someone who does things ‘by the book’ is considered pedantic and rigid.


  1. “I pride myself on doing everything by the book. All of our staff are treated equally and fairly.”

  2. “I love that our boss does things by the book, but sometimes it comes back to haunt me. Like the time I arrived 5 minutes late. I’m usually never late, but I was held up in traffic and couldn’t help it. My boss recorded it as a late arrival instead of letting me away with it, even though I’m never late. I suppose I shouldn’t expect to get preferential treatment.”


There are variations for use of the phrase ‘turn down’, but the most common use in terms of HR is to decline to accept (or refuse) a job offer.


  1. “We had five candidates who went through the interview process last week, and we were very happy with one in particular. We offered her the job within two hours of leaving the interview. Unfortunately, she turned it down.”

  2. “The staff member turned down the disciplinary action taken against him. For that reason, it was moved to our HR manager, who will revisit the incident from start to finish and make a decision.”


This phrase usually implies that one should think of the future, or think of other parallel factors, and not focus on the small details.


  1. “I see. That’s a very tough situation, but I think you should consider the big picture. You’ve made clear your interest in the promotion. If you keep your head down and work the overtime you’ve been asked to do, that will work in your favour.”

  2. “I need you to see the big picture on this. The future is what we’re looking at. Our recent times have not been the easiest, but we do it for the bigger picture. We’re laying the foundations for something huge.”


When your hands are tied, it means you are prevented from doing something because some other authority prevents you from acting. This can be applied to people or organizations.


  1. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. The manager’s decision is final. My hands are tied.”

  2. “I’ve just received your response email to a decision on your job application. Unfortunately, my hands are tied and they’ve already chosen a candidate.”


This phrase also has many uses and meanings, but we’ll focus on the most common use for a HR professional. When someone in HR uses ‘fall behind’, it’s usually in terms of an employee who has fallen behind in their work and their performance is now below par.


  1. “Usain was very consistent throughout last year, but seems to have fallen behind in recent times. I think we should arrange a meeting and find the reason behind his performance slipping.”

  2. “I’ve mapped out some individual goals for you, which we’ll keep track of on a weekly basis. Once we focus on each individual goal, we should be able to get you back to the high performing employee you were last year and stop you from falling behind again.”

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