Sink or swim: The role of workplace context in shaping career advancement and human-capital development

Shinjinee Chattopadhyay, Prithwiraj Choudhury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We develop and test predictions on howearly career challenges arising from the workplace context affect short- and long-term career advancement of individuals. Typically an organization's decision to deploy a manager to one of several possible contexts is endogenous to unobservable factors, and selection makes it challenging to disentangle the effect of workplace context on individual career advancement. We work around this problem by studying an organization, the Indian Administrative Services, which deploys entry-level managers quasirandomly across India. We find that managers deployed to more challenging contexts early in their careers experience faster career advancement in the short term. We present suggestive evidence that this is because challenging contexts provide managers more opportunities to develop skills ("crucible experiences"), and a greater motivation to relocate out of the challenging context. We also find that managers deployed to a challenging context early in their careers continue to experience faster advancement in the long term, suggesting that initial deployment to a challenging context is associated with human capital development. Managers initially deployed to more challenging contexts were not, however, more likely to break into the upper echelons of the organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-227
Number of pages17
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Career advancement
  • Crucible experiences
  • Human capital development
  • Individuals
  • Internal mobility
  • Location
  • Microfoundations
  • Motivation
  • Performance
  • Promotion
  • Workplace context

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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