3620 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Research Interests: careers, contingent work, firm boundaries, human resource management, knowledge workers
Matthew Bidwell’s research examines new patterns in careers and employment, focusing on causes and effects of more short-term, market oriented employment relationships. He is particularly interested in the different kinds of career paths that people take in the modern labor market. Matthew’s work has been published in a variety of academic journals and has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. It has also been recognized with a Scholarly Achievement Award from the Academy of Management Human Resources Division, the John T. Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Award from the Labor and Employment Association and the Scholarly Contribution Award from Administrative Science Quarterly. He has also won the Wharton Teaching Excellence Award several times. He has served as a Senior Editor at Organization Science and is currently a faculty co-director of the Wharton People Analytics Initiative and faculty director of the Wharton CHRO Program.
Matthew holds a Ph.D. from the MIT Sloan School, an S.M. in Political Science from MIT, and an M. Chem from Oxford.
Matthew Bidwell, Kira Choi, Isabel Fernandez-Mateo (2022), Brokered Careers: The Role of Search Firms in Managerial Career Mobility, Industrial and Labor Relations Review.
Abstract: We explore how career paths are shaped by the involvement of search firms in hiring. Drawing on theories of market intermediation, we argue that search firms constrain horizontal moves across functions and industries by favoring workers from within the same function and industry as the role being filled. Using survey data on 1,342 job moves undertaken by 816 MBA alumni, we find that individuals who move jobs through a search firm experience lower horizontal mobility than those who move through other means. Our findings also suggest that these results are not driven by firms’ decisions to use a search firm to fill the job. In supplementary analyses, we find no evidence that the job matches that are formed using search firms result in a better fit between workers and employers. Overall, the findings point to the significant institutional role that search firms play in managerial careers.
Minseo Baek, Matthew Bidwell, JR Keller (2021), My Manager Moved! The Effects of Supervisor Mobility on Subordinate Career Outcomes, Organization Science, forthcoming.
Abstract: How do managers’ moves across jobs affect the subordinates they leave behind? Manager mobility disrupts established manager-subordinate relationships, as subordinates must now learn to work with a replacement. We explore how this relational disruption affects subordinates’ objective career success – specifically their financial rewards and subsequent promotion chances. We argue that manager mobility may have both positive and negative implications for subordinate outcomes. The loss of an established relationship may reduce subordinates’ performance and managers’ propensity to reward them; on the other hand, relational disruption may make subordinates more willing and able to seek out valuable opportunities elsewhere in the organization. We also argue that these effects are likely to be greatest for those subordinates who had worked with the previous manager for longer. Using eight years of personnel data from the US offices of a Fortune 500 healthcare company, we show how managers’ mobility is associated with a decrease in subordinates’ financial rewards, but an increase in their promotion prospects.
Virginia Doellgast, Matthew Bidwell, Alexander Colvin (2020), New Directions in Employment Relations Theory: Understanding Fragmentation, Identity and Legitimacy, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, forthcoming.
Abstract: This article introduces the special issue “Toward new theories in employment relations.” The authors summarize the history of employment relations theory and reflect on the implications for new theory development of recent disruptive changes in the economy and society. Three sets of changes are identified: the growing complexity of actors in the employment relationship, an increased emphasis on identity as a basis for organizing and extending labor protections, and the growing importance of norms and legitimacy as both a constraint on employer action and a mobilizing tool. The articles in this special issue advance new frameworks to analyze these changes and their implications for the future of employment relations.
Matthew Bidwell (2020), No Vacancies? Building Theory on How Organizations Move People Across Jobs, Advances in Strategic Management , 41, pp. 153-174.
Abstract: Mobility processes, the routines that organizations use to move employees into and across jobs, are a critical determinant of the way that human capital is allocated within organizations and careers developed. Most existing work on these mobility processes has examined processes in which mobility is tightly coupled to the filling of vacancies. There is substantial evidence, though, that many organizations adopt very different processes for managing mobility. In this theory paper, I compare vacancy-based, “job-pull” systems with alternative, “person-push” systems in which mobility is keyed to employees’ attainment of performance and skill thresholds to explain how and why mobility processes vary. I identify two, inter-related dimensions along which mobility processes vary: whether their decisions processes emphasize the need to match employees to tasks versus providing predictable rewards; and whether the system of jobs that people move between prioritizes flexibility or control of agency costs. I use these dimensions to predict when organizations will adopt different mobility processes, and how those processes will affect employees’ mobility.
Tracy Anderson and Matthew Bidwell (2019), Outside insiders: understanding the role of contracting in the careers of managerial workers, Organization Science, (forthcoming).
Abstract: We explore the role that contracting plays within the careers of managerial workers. Contracting distances workers from organizational coordination and politics, aspects of organizational life that are often central to the managerial role. Nonetheless, managerial workers make up a substantial proportion of the contracting workforce. Qualitative interviews with managerial contractors indicate that the tension between the natures of contracting and managerial work means that managerial contractors carry out substantially more bounded work than do regular employees, and that this boundedness can shape the role that contracting plays in their careers. Examining the employment histories of MBA alumni of a US business school, we show that workers with fewer subordinates and greater personal demands are more likely to enter contracting. We also find that contractors report stronger work-life balance, but receive lower pay both while contracting and in subsequent regular employment. While prior research has highlighted the financial benefits and temporal demands of contracting for highly skilled workers, our findings introduce important boundary conditions into our understanding of high-skill contracting: the nature of the occupation is critical.
Matthew Bidwell and Ethan Mollick (2015), Shifts and Ladders: Comparing the Role of Internal and External Mobility in Executive Careers, Organiztion Science, 26 (6), pp. 1629-1645.
Abstract: Workers can build their careers either by moving into a different job within their current organization or else by moving into a new job within a different organization. We use matching perspectives on job mobility to develop predictions about the different roles that those internal and external moves will play within their careers. We propose that internal and external mobility are associated with very different rewards: upwards progression into a job with greater responsibilities is much more likely to happen through internal mobility, but external moves will nonetheless offer similar increases in pay, as employers seek to attract external hires. We also examine how these predictions change when moves take workers across job functions as well as when external mobility happens involuntarily. Analyses of data on the careers on MBA alumni are used to support these arguments. Despite growing interest in boundaryless careers, our findings indicate that internal and external mobility play very different roles in executives’ careers, with upwards mobility still happening overwhelmingly within organizations.
Matthew Bidwell, Shinjae Won, Roxana Barbulescu, Ethan Mollick (2015), I Used to Work at Goldman Sachs! How Organizational Status Creates Rents in the Market for Human Capital, Strategic Management Journal, 36 (8), pp. 1164-1173.
Abstract: How does employer status benefit firms in the market for general human capital? On the one hand, high status employers are better able to attract workers, who value the signal of ability that employment at those firms provides. On the other hand, that same signal can help workers bid up wages and capture the value of employers’ status. Exploring this tension, we argue that high status firms are able to hire higher ability workers than other firms, and do not need to pay them the full value of their ability early in the career, but must raise wages more rapidly than other firms as those workers accrue experience. We test our arguments using unique survey data on careers in investment banking.
Matthew Bidwell and JR Keller (2014), Within or without? How firms combine internal and external labor markets to fill jobs, Academy of Management Journal, 57.
Abstract: We examine which jobs are more likely to be filled by internal mobility (specifically, promotions and lateral transfers) versus hiring. Building off the assumptions of transaction cost accounts of employment, we develop new theory that focuses on the interaction between the problems of evaluating and integrating external hires on the one hand and the incentive costs of failing to promote eligible workers on the other. These arguments lead us to predict how three specific characteristics of jobs - demands for firm-specific skills, performance variability, and supply of internal candidates - affect how those jobs are staffed. Using seven years of personnel data spanning all jobs from the US offices of a large investment bank, we find that jobs with higher performance variability and a larger grade ratio of junior to senior workers are more likely to be filled by internal mobility. We also find evidence that the effects of performance variability are contingent on the grade ratio, only affecting staffing decisions when the firm does not face strong pressures to promote junior workers in order to maintain incentives. Contrary to expectations, we find no effect for firm-specific skills.
Matthew Bidwell (2012), What Happened to Long Term Employment? The Role Of Worker Power and Environmental Turbulence in Explaining Declines in Worker Tenure, Organization Science, (forthcoming).
Abstract: Recent declines in the average length of time that US workers spend with a given employer represent an important change in the nature of the employment relationship, yet one whose causes are poorly understood. I explore those causes using Current Population Survey data on the tenure of men aged 30-65. I argue that long term employment relationships primarily occur when workers pressure employers to close off employment from market competition, reducing the attractiveness of external mobility relative to internal opportunities, and increasing employment security. I then explore how two changes in organizations’ environments might have affected workers’ ability to secure such closed employment relationships: a decline in union strength, and increased turbulence from changes in technology and globalization. My results support the argument that declines in tenure reflect the reduced power of workers to secure closed employment relationships. Recent declines in tenure have been concentrated in large organizations, and much of those declines are explained by controlling for the changing levels of industry unionization. I find little evidence that foreign competition or technological change affected mobility. The results are robust to measures of changing industry growth rates and within-industry reorganization. Supplementary analyses suggest that layoffs are associated with different industry pressures than tenure, and that voluntary mobility may have played an important role in declines in tenure.
Matthew Bidwell (2012), Politics and Firm Boundaries: How Organizational Structure, Group Interests and Resources Affect Outsourcing, Organization Science, (forthcoming).
Abstract: How does managers’ pursuit of their own intra-organizational interests affect decisions about what work to outsource and how to contract with vendors? I study this question using a qualitative study of outsourcing in the IT department of a large financial services firm. Traditional transaction-cost-based theories argue that decisions about which transactions to outsource should reflect the characteristics of those transactions, yet I find only a weak link between transaction characteristics and outsourcing decisions. Qualitative evidence suggests that managers’ pursuit of their own intra-organizational interests helps to explain why outsourcing decisions were often divorced from transaction characteristics. I found that the consequences of outsourcing projects were consistent with the assumptions of transaction cost and capabilities based theories: managers had less authority over outsourced projects than internal, those projects were subject to weaker administrative controls, and outsourced vendors provided different capabilities than internal suppliers. However, the way that those consequences were evaluated often reflected managers’ own interests rather than those of the organization. I highlight three aspects of organizational structure that affected how managers evaluated outsourcing: the nature of differentiated goals and responsibilities, the administrative controls that managers faced, and the pressures caused by interdependent workflows within the organization. I also show how the distribution of authority and other resources shaped which projects were outsourced. The analysis highlights the value of understanding make or buy decisions as an endogenous consequence of the structure in which those decisions take place, rather than as isolated decisions that are maximized regardless of their context.
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