Joint efforts

Coworkers who move to new organizations together land higher wages.

Most people think of job mobility as an individual process. Workers search through job descriptions, do interviews, and get hired on their own.

But a recently published study titled “Hiring Molecules, Not Atoms: Comobility and Wages“co-authored by Questrom strategy and innovation professor Matt Marx in Organization Science suggests another approach might be more effective. His research showed that comobility—coworkers who move from one company to another in pairs or even groups—earn significantly higher wages than those who go it alone. Coupled with previous research that shows that comobility is beneficial for the hiring companies, it offers up a new way of thinking about hiring and the labor market.

The idea of comobility is reasonably common in Silicon Valley—well-funded startups, for example, are known for poaching entire teams from other companies to speed their own organization’s growth. However, its prevalence and effects had not been examined rigorously in a wide range of fields.

To study the issue more comprehensively, Marx and co-author Bram Timmermans, associate professor at the Norwegian School of Economics, turned to the job market in Denmark. The country’s relatively small size, unique language, and robust data made it easier to study both coincidental and intentional comobility across a range of industries. They mined data to study 85,000 job moves that workers took over the course of eight years.

The findings were significant. Workers who moved together intentionally to a new organization enjoyed a 5.5 percent wage premium compared to those who moved solo, the equivalent of an extra three weeks’ salary. The wage effect was highest in groups of workers who had related, but not identical, skills.

Marx says that it makes sense that hiring groups would bring advantages that hiring individuals would not. “Companies value not just the talents that each worker brings, but also the fact that the group members know how to work together,” he says. “They’re willing to pay for that.”

Moving forward, it may make sense for both employers and employees to rethink their approach to employment. “Most people don’t think about their career as a team sport,” says Marx. “But maybe they should.”

Read the complete study.

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