Less than a week after instituting its “no-politics-at-work”rule, tech company Basecamp has hemorrhaged at least one third of its workforce, including senior staff, with online comments suggesting a running joke may be to blame.
Basecamp is the software company behind Ruby on Rails, Campfire, and HEY, among other innovations. In what has now become a somewhat controversial blog post, co-founder and CEO Jason Fried announced a ban on “societal and political discussions” on Basecamp’s internal messaging systems.
“You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target,” Fried wrote.
“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. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well.”
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The move echoes similar internal policies introduced at companies like Google and Amazon. The result? One-third of Basecamp’s employees have reportedly accepted buyouts and parted ways with the company, including Head of Marketing Andy Didorosi and Head of customer support Kristin Aardsma.
I resigned today from my role as Head of Marketing at Basecamp due to recent changes and new policies.I'll be returning to entrepreneurship. My DMs are open if you'd like to talk or you can reach me at email@example.com
— Andy Didorosi (@ThatDetroitAndy) April 30, 2021
I’ve resigned as Head of Customer Support at Basecamp. I’m four months pregnant, so I’m going to take some time off to build this baby and hang out with my brilliant spouse and child.
— Kristin Aardsma (@kikiaards) April 30, 2021
The policy change reportedly arose following an employee-led diversity and inclusion effort in response to a running, 11-year-old inside joke with racist overtones.
In 2009, customer service agents compiled a list of names they found funny, many of whom were of African or Asian origin. Company co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson described the list as “just wrong in all sorts of fundamental ways,” but in seeking to move on and focus his staff on the future, not the dodgy past, he and Fried lost a significant number of staff.
Hansson addressed his Twitter critics by re-sharing “the main dunk tweet” used by his opponents quoting his own words in 2020 calling out CEOs for trying to appear apolitical.
Here's the main dunk tweet I've seen go with that. Just so you don't have to hunt for it. I'll remain as political as I please on my own spaces, but I'll leave it out of our internal systems for debate. https://t.co/O2PamTIm55
— DHH (@dhh) April 26, 2021
The exodus of staff will come at a significant financial cost, on top of the reputational damage, as outgoing employees with over three years at the company will be compensated with six months’ salary, while the remainder will receive three months’ salary.
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