What does the idiom "work to rule" mean?

Although the meanings of the words in them do not make any sense when examined one by one, the word groups that are shaped according to the cultural roots of the language and that make sense as a whole are called idioms. work to rule meaning, in what situations is it used?

Meaning of "work to rule"


The phrase “work to rule” refers to a type of protest by workers in which they deliberately follow all the rules and regulations of their job, to the letter, in order to cause their employer economic and reputational damage. The idea behind the protest is to impact the employer’s bottom line by slowing down production, thereby making it more difficult and more expensive to maintain the same production level.


The phrase “work to rule” first appeared in print in the early 1970s, and its origin is unknown. The phrase has been used in several different contexts, but in the labor context it is often used to describe a particular form of protest by workers. The idea of working to the rules to cause disruption likely originated in the early 20th century labor movement, when striking was often prohibited or impractical.


Work to rule protests have been used by workers in a variety of settings, from offices and universities, to factories and hospitals. It is most often used when workers feel that their employer is not respecting their rights or treating them fairly. It is also used when other forms of protest may be difficult or even illegal, such as strikes. In this case, workers will take the protest to the employer in the form of slowing production or disrupting normal operations by adhering strictly to the rules of their job.

Example Sentences

  • The factory workers are working to rule in order to protest the company's decision to reduce their benefits.
  • The teachers decided to take a work to rule approach in order to demand higher pay.
  • The hospital staff is using a work to rule strategy to highlight the dangerous working conditions they are facing.

The meanings of the words in the "work to rule" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


No comment has been written about work to rule yet, you can write the first comment and share your thoughts with our other visitors.
Leave a Reply