A colleague of mine, who is Nepalese, mentioned an expression he knows - roughly translated:

  • They don't feel the pain of the chopping board

Which is meant to describe that the user who is chopping something is oblivious to the constant thrashing being dealt out to the board. The context was within a conversation about middle management and the guys underneath them.

I am looking for an equivalent phrase in English to express the frustration that subordinates feel when middle management seriously underestimates the effort required in the tasks they set.

  • Is the context about management in-fighting that is affecting their subordinates, or about changes they institute that their subordinates have to struggle to implement, or about institutional down-sizing leading to uncertainty for those that aren't retrenched, or something else? – Lawrence Sep 29 '16 at 11:00
  • Probably more to do with lack of understanding the amount of effort required in certain tasks – mungflesh Sep 29 '16 at 11:21
  • @mungflesh You sound unsure. I've edited your question with what I think you're expressing. Please feel free to edit further or to roll it back. – Lawrence Sep 29 '16 at 11:30

You could say that the managers don't understand what it's like on the front lines or in the trenches.

Both of these expressions come from warfare, the second specifically from WWI trench warfare. When combined with some sort of statement that someone doesn't understand conditions they would give the suggestion of commanders who are asking soldiers to do things without fully comprehending what that means for the soldiers. Or in this case, of managers who make decisions without fully comprehending what difficulties they will cause for employees actually asked to implement those decisions.

on the front line of something also on the front lines of something,

leading others in an effort to change something For years the group has been on the front line of efforts to educate people about global warming. Doctor Tay is on the front lines of improving treatment for people with head and spinal injuries.

Etymology: based on the military use of soldiers on the front line or front lines (closest to the enemy and very important but also those most likely to be hurt or killed)

("on the front line of." Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. 2006. Cambridge University Press 29 Sep. 2016.)

in the trenchesworking in the most active and difficult parts of a job or business:

The boss understands the difficulties we face here in the trenches. He's a salesman with 30 years of in-the-trenches experience.

("trenches." Cambridge Business Dictionary. N.D. Cambridge University Press 29 Sep. 2016.)


How about the term coal-face: "They don't know what it's like working at the coal-face" (working in a coal-mine). Any native English speaker will understand immediately what you mean, but I like your expression. It's brilliant. Why not use it? You can always introduce it with "as they say in Nepal".

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