A third of Basecamp employees are said to have left immediately
Within a week, Basecamp’s hated rule of non-politics at work escalated into a mass exodus. This afternoon, journalist Casey Newton tweeted that about a third of the company’s employees have agreed to buyouts following a “controversial all-round meeting.” The software company behind Ruby on Rails, Campfire, and HEY was, until about this week, generally viewed by outsiders as one of the good ones.
The commotion came out of left field on Tuesday, when co-founder and CEO Jason Fried ad the prohibition of “societal and political discussions” within the Basecamp company account. This decision is unfortunately aligned with similar internal policies in companies such as Google and Amazon, who have also lost all semblance of moral superiority. Fried and co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, who haTogether, I have authored a handful of books on reinventing the workplace and championed this decision as a positive change for employee well-being and productivity.
“You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re an accomplice, or if you step in means you’re a target,” Fried wrote. “These are waters difficult enough to navigate in life, but much harder at work. It has become too much. It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy and redirects our dialogue to dark places. It is not healthy, it has not served us well.
Tech workers on Twitter called the familiar booming speeches on the speech ban “odious“and disappointing, and called for employees at Basecamp to unionize. Others rebroadcast a 2020 tweet from David Heinemeier Hansson, complaining about other business leaders who are trying to “appear apolitical” rather than “not advocating shitty politics.”
Hansson responded to critics with a link to this in his initial policy announcement tweet, writing, “Here’s the main dunk tweet I’ve seen going with this. Just so you don’t have to search for it. He added that he would continue to express his political views freely, but not in internal communications.
Like Casey Newton reported days later, employees said the policy change was the result of an employee-led diversity and inclusion effort. Newtown reported that more than a third of 58 staff have volunteered to create more inclusive hiring practices and business relationships.
The effort led to a call for the company to address an 11-year-old internal joke with racist overtones. Starting in 2009, Newton reported, customer service reps compiled a running list of customer names they found amusing. It stopped being funny when the list started to include names that were apparently funny because they sounded non-European American. This led the employees to ask for atonement; Hansson told Newton that he and Fried shared the blame and that the list was “just plain wrong in all sorts of fundamental ways.” But when that didn’t end the discussion, Hansson allegedly attempted to shut off an employee’s view by slyly reposting an old message from the chat archives, in order to supposedly involve them., employees hesitated, and therefore the policy update.
We’re not sure exactly what happened in today’s meeting, but the employees are attribute their decision to leave to “recent changes and new policies”. Gizmodo contacted the co-founders and several Basecamp employees who announced their departure on Twitter. We will update this post when we hear back.