Left Behind? Understanding the Impact of Colleague Exit on the Careers of Collaborative Workers

Tracy Anderson, Bocconi University

Abstract: Prior research has highlighted how the career mobility of colleagues can impact the likelihood of workers’ own mobility through either social comparison or the workings of the organization’s internal labor market. In this paper, I propose that such interdependence can also arise through collaborative working and the opportunities that this provides to develop human capital and enhance performance outcomes. I argue that the exit of colleagues who are collaborators will reduce existing opportunities and encourage worker turnover. Yet, collaborator exit may also generate new opportunities for human capital acquisition and improved performance, mitigating the negative effects of collaborator loss and even increasing the likelihood of promotion among workers who stay. I explore the impact of colleague exit on workers’ careers using a dataset that combines internal HR data, publications data, and other hand-collected data on employees engaged in scientific research within a single organization. My findings show how the impact of colleague exit varies depending upon the worker’s relationship with exiting colleagues, that is whether or not they are collaborators, and on their relative rank and departmental affiliations. In so doing, this paper highlights the role of collaboration and the mobility of collaborators in shaping worker opportunity, extending our understanding of careers.