Careers and Career Success across National Contexts (Symposium): Sponsored Mobility in Context

Silvia Bagdadli, Martina Gianecchini, Robert Kaše , Jon P. Briscoe, Katharina Chudzikowski, Astrid Reichel

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Despite several scholars (e.g. Hall, 1996) predicting and theorizing the end of the traditional career years ago, “there is surprisingly little empirical evidence to support the notion that the organizational career has disappeared” (Clarke, 2013: 687). Instead, evidence suggests that companies simply continue to use the same organizational career management (OCM) practices to foster managerial careers (Cappelli & Keller, 2014). Meanwhile, individuals working in this somehow “traditional” organizational context, still place a great emphasis on the objective career success (OCS, Bagdadli, Solari, Usai, & Grandori, 2003; Cappelli & Keller, 2014) and its measurable indicators (e.g. salary and promotions) (Dries, Pepermans, Hofmans, & Rypens, 2009). Recognizing both the continuing relevance for individuals of OCS and the extensive organizational investments in human capital through OCM practices, we acknowledge limitations in the existing theoretical and empirical literature relating OCM and OCS and we propose to investigate it with a novel perspective. Theoretical background Sponsored mobility theory (Turner, 1960) theorized long ago the effects of organizational investments on OCS. According to the theory, resources for OCM are limited and cannot be equally or homogenously dedicated to all organizational members. A corollary of the above is that those who receive sponsorship are the “chosen ones” in the organization. Such individuals will likely receive organizational investments consistently, rather than sporadically. This contributes to a cumulative effect whereby multiple sponsorships (or lack thereof) make departures from early assigned careers difficult (Rosenbaum, 1984). Despite these theoretical premises, subsequent empirical literature has mainly focused on studying the effects of isolated OCM practices on career success indicators, obtaining either conflicting or weak results. It has largely overlooked the impact of a set of OCM practices (e.g., Ng et al., 2005), which has limited the opportunity to detect a cumulative effect of different practices and, therefore, the emergence of possibly stronger relationships. Addressing this challenge, our first research question asks: Is more extensive exposure to OCM throughout one’s career positive for a person’s OCS? Second, the broader context in which OCM practices take place has been typically overlooked, with the vast majority of single-country studies conducted in North America (e.g., Campion, Cheraskin, & Stevens, 1994). However, according to Mayrhofer and colleagues (2007) careers develop in national contexts and country-level institutional factors set boundary conditions for individuals’ career development. This leads to our second research question: “How do relevant macro contextual variables moderate the relationship between extent of exposure to OCM and OCS?” OCM and objective career success OCM comprises a set of practices aimed at supporting the professional development of employees according to business goals, such as: career counselling, career planning, succession planning, career workshops, formal training, assessment and development centres, performance appraisal, formal mentoring, job posting, job rotation and lateral moves (Baruch & Peiperl, 2000). The mechanisms relating OCM practices and career success leverage the increased competences, motivation and visibility that lead to higher individual productivity (Boxall, 2016). Since organizations pay employees accordingly to competences and performance, we may expect that individuals experiencing a larger set (in terms of variety) of OCM practices are more likely to achieve higher individual achievement and therefore a higher salary. Thus, our first hypothesis is the following: Hypothesis 1a: Having experienced a larger set of OCM practices along one’s career is positively related to salary. Together with salary, promotions are a powerful reward to productive employees. Individuals experiencing a larger set of OCM practices are more likely to be highly productive and, thus, are more likely be promoted. However, since individual performance is not the only criterion or signal organizations use to take promotion decisions (Rosenbaum, 1984) but other criteria or conditions might be in place, such as the assessment of managerial potential, the availability of an upper level position, random factors and/or seniority, salary progression might be linked to promotions, but not necessarily. Thus, our second hypothesis is the following: Hypothesis 1b: Having experienced a larger set of OCM practices along one’s career is positively related to promotion rate. Institutional factors and OCS Careers are embedded in context and country-level institutional factors play a crucial role in setting conditions for individuals’ career development. Beyond individual agency and organisations, careers are shaped by “the landscape of the institution or institutions of which the person forms a part. Charting the landscape involves understanding the political make-up, culture, context and strategy of one’s institutions” (King, 2001: 67). Tomlinson and colleagues (2017) highlight factors such as education and training systems and welfare regimes among others influencing career opportunities and outcomes. However so far empirical studies examining the effects of country related institutional factors on objective career success have been rare. In this study we test the effects of three institutional factors - labour market flexibility, social mobility and general country prosperity – on career outcomes. Labor market flexibility refers to the degree of public regulation in the labor market. In highly-regulated labor markets, unions, collective bargaining institutions, and employment legislation impose legal restrictions on employers’ rights to terminate contracts at will (Gangl, 2003). In flexible labor markets, workers experience more dynamic careers, characterized by higher mobility, salaries and career opportunities. Social mobility refers to the movement of individuals within or between layers of social stratification (Torche, 2014). In countries with high social mobility, opportunity to succeed (or fail) is open to all, regardless of their social origins. Therefore, we may expect that individuals receiving OCM investments from the company can rapidly increase their status, both in occupational and compensation terms. Finally, higher general country development comprises higher income, longer life expectancy, and higher education levels. Such conditions enable access to a wider assortment of jobs and career opportunities (Van De Vliert & Janssen, 2002). Hypothesis 2a: High labour market flexibility will positively moderate the relation between OCM and objective career success (salary and promotion speed). Hypothesis 2b: High social mobility will positively moderate the relation between OCM and objective career success (salary and promotion speed). Hypothesis 2c: High general country prosperity will positively moderate the relation between OCM and objective career success (salary and promotion speed) Method and analysis Research design and sample – Our data comes from the 5C dataset (please see the introduction to this symposium). For this particular study, we considered a subset of the 5C data including only managers or professionals (all employed by organizations, rather than self-employed). The final sample included 8,817 participants from 28 countries (average age, 40.6 years; average work experience, 16 years work experience; 51% females; 59% professionals and 41% managers; 75.5 % had tertiary education). In order to test the hypotheses, we needed to examine multilevel and cross-level interaction models with manifest variables. Measures - The two dependent variables are promotion speed (average number of promotions a person received per year of work experience) and high relative salary rank (the difference between individuals’ salary rank and their median salary rank within the country). The independent variable is Organizational Career Management (OCM) an additive index of 10 OCM practices that an individual has been exposed to during the course of her/his career (formal education, job posting, lateral moves, international assignments, written personal career planning, performance appraisal, career counselling, assessment centre, mentoring and/or networking, peer and/or subordinate appraisal). As moderating institutional variables we adopted Employment Protection Legislation (EPL) as indicator of labour market flexibility; the Social Mobility Index as indicator of social mobility; Human Development Index (HDI) as indicators of general country prosperity. Finally, we included the following individual controls: total work experience in years, gender, educational level and managerial position. Key findings and discussion In Hypotheses 1a and 1b we argued that an individual that has experienced more exposure to OCM will also experience a higher promotion speed (H1a) and will more likely be among those with high relative salary rank (H1b). Results (Table 1 and Table 2) show that both the relationships between OCM and promotion speed (γ = 0.013, p = 0.001) and between OCM and high relative salary (γ = 0.144, p = 0.000) were positive and statistically significant. -- Insert Tables 1 & 2 about here-- Concerning the cross-level interactions, the relationship between OCM and promotion do not differ between countries (the slope variance random coefficient is zero and not significant). The cross-level interaction of country institutional variables with OCM in predicting higher promotion speed is significant and meaningful only for HDI (γ = 0.361, p = 0.002). Thus, we found only support for H2c but not for H2a and H2b. In line with sponsored mobility theory supporting an additive role of the organizational investments on employees, our results showed that experiencing a larger set of OCM practices increases an individual’s objective career success. We note that for promotion rate, the effect size (standardized coefficients) of OCM is almost twice the size of the controls’ effects (manager, gender and level of education), whereas for salary controls exhibit stronger effects. The investigation of the effects of institutional factors suggests that the effect of OCM practices are relevant for promotion speed, no matter the context, whereas higher country prosperity affect the odds of having a higher salary.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2018
Event78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management: Improving Lives - Chicago, Chicago, USA United States
Duration: 10 Aug 201814 Aug 2018


Conference78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
Abbreviated titleAoM
Country/TerritoryUSA United States
Internet address


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