About one-third of the employees of software developer Basecamp have quit their jobs after the company’s founders asked them to focus on developing software, rather than get involved in politics at work.
Basecamp co-founder and CEO Jason Fried told employees that “every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant.”
“We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company,” Fried added, encouraging employees to focus on their jobs rather than politics while in the workplace.
Days later, “about one-third of Basecamp employees accepted buyouts,” following “a contentious all-hands meeting,” according tech reporter Casey Newton.
About one-third of Basecamp employees accepted buyouts today after a contentious all-hands meeting. I’m told more are coming.
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) April 30, 2021
Newton reported at Platformer that one employee told him, “we’re hired opinionated people, we’ve created opinionated software, and now basically the company has said, ‘well, your opinions don’t really matter — unless it’s directly related to business.'”
“A lot of people are gonna have a tough time living with that,” the employee added.
The situation escalated in December, after a new Basecamp hire reportedly volunteered to help the company work on “diversity issues.” The employee posted on a thread in the Basecamp software, seeking to find volunteers to start working on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.
After that, an internal practice known as the “Best Names Ever” list fell under scrutiny. The practice involved Basecamp customer service representatives adding to a list of customers’ names that they found funny.
But more than a decade later, employees became uncomfortable with the exercise.
“What once had felt like an innocent way to blow off steam, amid the ongoing cultural reckoning over speech and corporate responsibility, increasingly looked inappropriate, and often racist,” reports Platformer.
Soon after that, employees began discussing the names on the customer list, with some taking to the internal Basecamp chat forums to post apologies for having contributed to the list in the past.
In their apology, the employees reportedly included an image of the Anti-Defamation League’s “pyramid of hate,” which lists “non-inclusive language” and “microaggressions” at the bottom, and “genocide” at the top, stating, “if people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or ‘normal,’ it results in the behaviors at the next level becoming more accepted.”
“The Pyramid of Hate demonstrates that the hate of genocide is built upon the acceptance of behaviors described in the lower levels of the pyramid,” the Anti-Defamation League insists.
Basecamp co-founder and chief technology officer David Hansson told Platformer that attempting to liken the list of customer names to a potential genocide represented a case of “catastrophizing.”
“Hansson wanted to acknowledge the [list] as a failure and move on,” reports Platformer. “But when employees who had been involved in the list wanted to continue talking about it, he grew exasperated. ‘You are the person you are complaining about,’ he thought.”
Discussion about the Best Names Ever list and how Basecamp ought to hold itself accountable for creating it subsequently led directly to Fried announcing that the company would be making some changes to ensure there was “no forgetting what we do here.”
Fried added that there would be “no more societal and political discussions” on the company’s internal chat forums. The CEO called it “a major distraction,” adding, “it saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places.”
“It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well,” Fried affirmed.