The Chinese expression 职业病 (zhi ye bing, occupational disease), when used seriously, just means occupational disease, e.g. lung problems caused by working in a chemical factory.

But there is also a humorous use of the expression, which describes how a person's job creates habits that manifest outside work, usually inappropriately.

For example:

David is a taxi driver. Sometimes when he is off-work driving his private car, he sees someone standing on the side of the road and, without thinking, he slows down and starts pulling over towards the person. Then he realizes that he's not on the job, does a face palm and says to himself, "职业病!".


Jane is a flight attendant. Her job involves the use of a lot of detailed checklists (for safety equipment, boarding procedures, meal apparatus, etc.). At home, her young son would often forget to bring this or that to school, so she made a professional-looking, over-the-top checklist and posted it next to the door. Visitors are always amused by the checklist; she explains it as a case of "职业病".


Sofia is a middle school math teacher. A friend texts her, "I turn 50 tomorrow - half a century!" She responds, "1/2 century? You look like more like 3/7 century! Oh sorry, 职业病!".

What is the closest equivalent of this expression in English? (It doesn't have to be one word.)

  • Answers-in-comments deleted and comments locked: this question seems clear. If you have an answer, write an answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 27, 2022 at 6:54

7 Answers 7


The most straightforwardly similar term is "occupational hazard", which is frequently used this way (in my experience).

Bruce Sterling writes in his book "The Hacker Crackdown":

Besides, science fiction people are used to being misinterpreted.  Science fiction is a colorful, disreputable, slipshod occupation, full of unlikely oddballs, which, of course, is why we like it.  Weirdness can be an occupational hazard in our field.  People who wear Halloween costumes are sometimes mistaken for monsters.

In "The Geometry of Ecological Interactions" we have:

If the "occupational hazard" of being a field ecologist is thinking that everything is important and therefore must be included, the occupational hazard of theoreticians is building general, abstract models without a clear goal other than exploring the dynamics of the model itself.

From Emily Richards' "Somewhere between Luck and Trust":

There’s a phrase.” She tried to recall it and couldn’t. “Occupational...” “Hazard?” Analiese supplied. “That’s the one. Assuming somebody’s lying. Is that an occupational hazard of being a minister?” Analiese looked as if she was trying not to smile. “My occupational hazard is trying to read people’s minds, to see if they need help telling more of the truth. I have a feeling you have things buried deep inside you that you can’t share with anybody yet. Things eating at you.

From The Herald (Scotland),

Is Brian Cox's swearing habit an occupational hazard?

Succession star Brian Cox says role has made him swear 'a lot' in real life

In Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark overreacts to someone removing something from their purse, and then to explain his overreaction he says "Sorry, it's an occupational hazard."

  • 2
    I think this is the phrase I've heard. Another example is when a psychotherapist is at a normal social gathering, and can't help analyzing the people they're conversing with.
    – Barmar
    Jul 27, 2022 at 14:47
  • 3
    Hmm... even if you have succeeded to find a source which mirrors the OP's scenario; people, most, will interpret it differently. An occupational hazard is a risk to one's health which is normally present in the workplace. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/occupational-hazard
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 27, 2022 at 14:56
  • 5
    I would suggest that an Occupational Hazard might include knock-on effects that carry over into your daily life, but it's generally not associated with your work-behaviour carrying over. I'm not convinced this is the right answer. Jul 27, 2022 at 15:44
  • 2
    "Occupational hazard" is pretty close to the Chinese expression. Perhaps the main difference is that the Chinese expression is an everyday phrase used by people of all walks of life, whereas "occupational hazard" feels like a somewhat sophisticated expression. But the meaning and usage are very similar.
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:54
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA It's almost figurative or hyperbole but it's not that uncommon, it's even in a Marvel movie. Jul 27, 2022 at 18:03

In English, in a conversation, we can say "Sorry, work habit" followed by a sheepish smile or "(It's) just a work habit". It's difficult to find written usages as it is mainly conversational. The phrase occupational habit is used also, instead of work habit.

Here is a written example I've found in a story:

"I know exactly who you are," he paused and I couldn't help but hold my breath under his arresting gaze. "You're... a psychotherapist."

My chest deflated in a long relieved sigh as my shoulders slumped.

"You're right," I gave a nervous chuckle. "You got me. Guilty!" I raised my hands to my sides.

"This is why you asked me about my time in college," his eyes refused to look away from mine. "You're analyzing me."

"It's just a work habit, you know? Can't seem to shake it off," I shrugged nonchalantly, fidgeting with my straw.


  • 3
    "Work habit" is very close, +1. ("Work habit" is a bit closer than "occupational habit", because "work habit" is more informal - the Chinese expression is used lightheartedly.)
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:21

I have encountered the expression professional reflex referring to the situation you describe. E.g.

The White Tiger is a story of servitude, resentment and love – and what its hero calls “the contented smile that comes to the lips of a servant who has done his duty by his master”. He does a lot of smiling in this film, but this is about something other than contentment. It is a professional reflex and a personal holding pattern, a blank grin kept in place while the servant decides if he in fact hates his master, and while he also decides if he might somehow one day be the master himself. (The Guardian, film review)

Perhaps it's a professional reflex, but it seemed to me to be the equivalent of a person posting -as an April Fool's joke - that they had just suffered a heart attack, were on life-support, and might not make it. (source)

However, there is also the concept of professional deformation which is the English version of déformation professionnelle. About this term, Wikipedia says:

Déformation professionnelle (French: professional deformation or job conditioning) is a tendency to look at things from the point of view of one's own profession or special expertise, rather than from a broader or humane perspective. It is often translated as professional deformation, though French déformation can also be translated as "distortion". The implication is that professional training, and its related socialization, often result in a distortion of the way one views the world. The Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel has observed that "every specialist, owing to a well-known professional bias, believes that he understands the entire human being, while in reality he only grasps a tiny part of him."

It is interesting to note that

"Déformation professionnelle" was used in 19th-century medicine to describe a bodily deformity caused by one's occupation.

Just as your Chinese term, I suppose one could use this expression to mean that you do something out of a habit that was instilled in you by your profession.

  • 1
    "Professional reflex", although not a common phrase (a quick internet search yields nothing for me), would be easily understood in the contexts in question, and it is remarkably close to the Chinese expression, in terms of the feeling. +1
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:10
  • Yes, it is rare it seems, yet Ngram seems to find plenty.
    – fev
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:14
  • 1
    Cheers. Btw, I would say "a habit that was instilled in you..." instead of "a habit that was induced in you...". (I read your personal intro page - "I am not a native speaker... grateful to be shown my mistakes")
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:39
  • Indeed, I am grateful. Will edit :)
    – fev
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:56
  • To clarify, I wouldn't say "induce" is a mistake; "instill" just seems slightly more natural in that context.
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:14

We sometimes refer to “bringing our work home”. In this usage, it refers more to the behaviour than to actual work done for the employer. Here is an example from cartoon stock:


enter image description here

  • The cartoon is making fun of the phrase. It's normally used literally for doing real work at home, not the way the OP wants.
    – Barmar
    Jul 27, 2022 at 14:45
  • "Bringing one's work home" is similar to the Chinese expression in that both describe a failure to detach oneself from work. But the word "home" weakens from the similarity: the Chinese phrase can be used to describe a person who is anywhere, not just at home.
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:12
  • 1
    At least to me it seems a natural reading that the cartoon character is doing actual work for the employer and the joke is that it's a really inappropriate kind of work to bring home. Jul 29, 2022 at 8:33
  • @Alexey Romanov I wonder where you live if you think it is normal to be firing out the window with a semi-automatic gun. If you tried that here you would end up serving a prison sentence. And what sort of employment do you imagine?
    – Anton
    Jul 29, 2022 at 22:13
  • @Anton It isn't normal, but it's the normal amount of non-normal for a New Yorker cartoon. The employment is in mafia (or local equivalent) and treating it as any other job is again part of the joke. Jul 29, 2022 at 22:33

Work on the brain

Depending on your context the idiom "On the brain" is sometimes used as part of an apology when you have a freudian slip.
"Anyway the crust of the matter is.. hang-on, did I say crust? I meant Crux. I must have pizza on the brain"

You might similarly say refer to having Work "on-the-brain" when you slip into technical jargon at home.

  • 1
    Not bad, but my impression is that if a person has "work on the brain" then they are thinking about some specific work-related issue (e.g. a teacher thinking about what questions to put on next week's exam), whereas the Chinese expression is about general habits (e.g. a plastic surgeon staring at strangers' noses).
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 17:07

I have always used the term Force of Habit.
Lexico has a good definition:

The tendency for something done very frequently to become automatic.
"he checks his appearance out of force of habit"

It doesn't specifically refer to a work habit; however, most of or time is spent doing work tasks, so this applies.
TBH: It could also be a habit from a previous job, or a learned task, etc.

  • Well, ideally the expression should explicitly include the concept of occupation/profession/work.
    – Dan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 22:15
  • 1
    @Dan Exactly, I grew up with several older brothers, my 'force of habit' is to, when sitting down to eat, quickly pile a lot of food on my plate. This habit was formed so I wouldn't go hungry, as there would be no opportunity for seconds. This has nothing to do with work.
    – Glen Yates
    Jul 28, 2022 at 1:13

zhi ye bing : occupational disease

zhi ye : profession

bing : adverb : also, side by side, simultaneously. conjunction : and. verb : combine, incorporate, merge

– Google Translate

'It comes with the territory.'
'It comes with the job.'

"phrase. If you say that something comes with the territory, you mean that you accept it as a natural result of the situation you are in. Doing human rights work is risky business. That comes with the territory." – Collins dictionary

This is the closest literal equivalent. But the answer you want is occupational hazard. All occupational diseases are (coming from the hypernym) occupational hazards, but not all occupational hazards are occupational diseases. And diseases are never something to joke about. Like getting herpes from a hooker. But if instead the hooker falls in love with Richard Gere, then that's an 'occupational hazard'.

That the word bing somehow got translated to 'disease' is the problem, and the thinking that a hazard is always bad. Because fill in the blank after the word occupational has only one answer : hazard.

"a plastic surgeon staring at strangers' noses"

'If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.'

  • About the "bing": you've got the wrong "bing"; your bing is "并” but it should be "病", which means illness/disease. Here's my go-to Chinese-English dictionary: mdbg.net/chinese/dictionary (I wish I could make hyperlinks in comments.)
    – Dan
    Jul 28, 2022 at 1:45
  • Ok, the 'problem' is there's 100 characters, all translated into bing. ;) occupational hazard is in use, if only seldom. But I've never heard occupational disease in my entire life and was surprised to find it had its own wiki page.
    – Mazura
    Jul 28, 2022 at 1:50
  • Here's the link.
    – Dan
    Jul 28, 2022 at 1:54

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