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Basecamp CEO apologizes for policy banning political, societal discussions

More than a third of Basecamp employees have quit after new policies banned societal and political discussions at the company, prompting CEO Jason Fried to issue an apology.

Basecamp backfire: At least 20 of Basecamp’s 57 staffers left the company after Fried and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson called for the end of “paternalistic” benefits and distracting conversations on politics while working. The nixed benefits included a fitness perk, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances.

Sorry, but: Fried apologized for the lack of clarity in how he introduced the changes, but Basecamp plans to keep the new policies in place.

“Last week was terrible. We started with policy changes that felt simple, reasonable, and principled, and it blew things up internally in ways we never anticipated. David and I completely own the consequences, and we're sorry. We have a lot to learn and reflect on, and we will. The new policies stand, but we have some refining and clarifying to do.” —Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp

The spark: The Verge reports the new policies were spurred by internal arguments over a list of “funny names” of Basecamp customers whose names were of Asian or African origin. “Employees considered their inclusion inappropriate at best and racist at worst,” according to editor Casey Newton.

Vets depart: Among those that quit were several Basecamp vets with more than five years’ experience, including director of operations Troy Toman and head of design Jonas Downey.

Severance: CTO David Heinemeier Hansson wrote that Basecamp harbored no hard feelings toward employees who left and offered them all a no-questions-asked severance of six months salary.

Free speech vs. efficiency: In a study conducted during the 2016 presidential campaign, many employees reported feeling stressed and less productive because of political discussions at work.

Setting boundaries: About 1 in 4 workers ages 18 - 34 said political discussions at work made them feel stressed out, according to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence. Nearly a quarter of younger workers reported being less productive, 21 percent cited a decline in work quality, and 19 percent reporting having difficulty getting their work done.

“Today's social and political waters are especially choppy. … You shouldn't have to wonder if staying out of it means you're complicit, or wading into it means you're a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places.” —Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp

Following the fallout: Developer John Breen began tracking the people that quit Basecamp in an effort to help them find new gigs. In total, he found more than 20 former staffers that are seeking new work.

What’s next: Basecamp reported about 3.5 million customers to start 2021. If customers are as concerned with the new policies as their former employees, it may affect its bottom line. Several Redditors on r/HeyEmail have indicated they're displeased and may ditch the service.

More to come: Ultimately, this controversy is only the beginning of how companies will approach politics in the workplace — not the end. Expect more organizations to introduce their own policies as employees start to consider returning to the office this fall.

What do you think about the policies and fallout? Please share your thoughts below.

  1. 18

    I hope he don't change the policy. Work culture is becoming toxic as every new year passing because of too much political activism.

    1. 10

      I totally agree. Politics in the workplace brings nothing but toxicity.

    2. 5

      Completely agree. While the method of implementing the changes was not great, the actual policy changes themselves make me WANT to work at Basecamp.

    3. 1

      Same thoughts here. Although it stings at the moment to lose so many employees i think it's for the better in the long run and the founders recognize that.

      For every employee that has left there are thousands more that will want to join the company exactly because of the new rules.

      Don't cater to the mob.

    4. 1

      What's the problem with:

      a fitness perk, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances

      ???

      1. 2

        Because in essence, it's making assumptions on how people should be living their lives. They are essentially paying people more to live in a "more superior" way.

        By removing these things, people are left to make their own decisions on how they use their remuneration to fund the lifestyles they want to live.

        1. 1

          So, am I understanding this right?

          Group A doesn't want to go the gym or take advantage of a wellness perk and because of that, group B - who may want to take advantage of those perks get them stripped?

          What about - hey these are some company perks, use them if you want and don't if you don't?

          What about any of those perks is "more superior" in any way??

          1. 4

            This is that section in full.

            1. No more paternalistic benefits. For years we've offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we've had a change of heart. It's none of our business what you do outside of work, and it's not Basecamp's place to encourage certain behaviors — regardless of good intention. By providing funds for certain things, we're getting too deep into nudging people's personal, individual choices. So we've ended these benefits, and, as compensation, paid every employee the full cash value of the benefits for this year. In addition, we recently introduced a 10% profit-sharing plan to provide direct compensation that people can spend on whatever they'd like, privately, without company involvement or judgment.
            1. 0

              I guess this is slightly better but in my opinion it still sucks.

              I get some benefits from my work that are similar and I really value them. Getting the cash equivalent isn’t the same. As soon as that benefit becomes cash then it just goes into that pool of money that is used to pay bills and live, and it might not then be as easy to justify the several hundred dollar benefits when they’re not “free”.

              It’s not as black and white as it might appear.

          2. 2

            Firstly, I am big on fitness, work out every weekday and personally have no issue with a company offering gym stipend, BUT if you put yourself in someone else shoes i.e. the person in Group A above, maybe they have no interest in fitness, and have been hassled all their life (directly or indirectly) for their lack of fitness.

            So the Group A person is getting less remuneration for there work, simply because they don't like working out.

            You can say, "Don't want it? Don't use it!", but the company is (in the eyes of some people) rewarding people to have a lifestyle in a certain way.

            The overarching thing is principle. Most probably none of those perks were causing any big issues BUT it's the principle that Basecamp wanted to put in place, so that later in the future they wouldn't isolate or hurt anyone by bringing in a new/different perk that would.

            e.g. what about they offer a stipend for people to attend Church on Sundays? or what about they offer a paid day off for people to attend a political rally?

            You may say, it's obvious that that wouldn't be a good idea, but it's only obvious in the social climate we live in right now. In the future it could change, and that's why it's important to know what principles are going to guide your decisions today and in the future.

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          1. 1

            Agreed it's crazy times, but that's why having areas in our life which are apolitical is so refreshing.

  2. 4

    Dhh and Fried are smart guys. I wouldn't be surprised if this move was entirely strategic. Sounds like their company was being consumed by a mutiny of folks who want to discuss politics all day instead of focusing on delivering for customers. I'm at a big tech right now and it's honestly suffocating how all this nonsense is coming into the office. Large corporations are capitalizing on this trend and using virtue signaling to expand territory but that's not Basecamp style.

  3. 1

    I think it's a weird symptom of how overinflated tech stocks are today, and how it proves their point that sensitivities are at 11. Banning political discussion inside the company chat seems like a pretty normal thing to do to me. It seems like an asymmetrical reaction imo.

  4. 1

    It is weird to see so many conservative or right wing pundits applauding this move, because from the follow up article by Casey Newton, it appears that the core of the matter was one of their most senior managers frequent re-posting of ultra right wing news outlet articles on company channels, which was unchecked and made other employees feel aggrieved.

    So in effect, this ban would have meant less right-wing propaganda on their company chats, if anything. Wonder if they realised that, or will realise it now and suddenly reverse their adulation of the company.

  5. 1

    I don't think the headline accurately reflects the substance of Jason Fried's remarks in https://world.hey.com/jason/an-update-303f2f99 Policies remain in place and he is not asking anyone who has given notice to reconsider, he is wishing them luck in their career--elsewhere. Some alternatives:

    • "Basecamp CEO commits to clarifying and refining new policies"
    • "Basecamp CEO commits to continued improvements to workplace policies related to political discussions."
  6. 0

    I feel like this is total bullshit. The basecamp guys have, in my opinion, lost the plot in recent years.

    More than a third of their workforce walking out says to me that this was only the straw that broke the camel's back.

    1. 0

      theres truth to this; they have been talking / behaving this way for years. no surprise to those who know them well.

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