Basecamp messes up big time

Alternate title: Basecamp invites people who care more about social justice than the mission of the company to move along.

It’s not clear what sort of social justice anyone thought was being furthered through political discussions on the company’s internal systems. The only thing remotely in that ballpark seems to be the ill-advised name list, but the gist of the policy change on the surface at least seems rather reasonable. “Take it to private channels” doesn’t strike me as anything to get upset about. Clearly there is a real divide though at the company between different factions.

Social justice and the mission of the company shouldn’t be incompatible. That’s the real issue here.

It’s a complex issue and there’s probably a necessary balance between either extreme.

But also I suspect the founders are kind-of-dicks who deserve the blow back. The “paternalistic benefits” they removed, for example, are described as a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer’s market share, and continuing education allowances. I doubt most of those are especially controversial. Lots of companies do them & most of those sound like items that society should encourage.

To decide that the company shouldn’t support anything seems (1) naive because of course they will just not officially and (2) eventually lead down a libertarian path where we don’t owe one-another anything. What kind of hellish dystopia would that create?


I mean, that version makes Basecamp look worse, but whatever you like I guess.

Which I believe they rolled into base pay, didn’t they?

I dunno. I don’t see the slippery slope here, or the downside to paying employees in cash and letting them engage with causes they see as important, rather than choosing winners at the corporate level.

On the surface, the “don’t discuss politics on work forums” bit seems completely reasonable and I agree with it.

However, the founders invited that stuff by being aggressively political in public forums, on twitter, etc. This attracted employees who felt the same way. So when they had an abrupt about-face, their employees felt betrayed and (impressively) quite a few actually quit over it.

There’s also a real sense of comeuppance in an emperor has no clothes sort of thing because they wrote books about how to effectively manage a company and its employees in a progressive inclusive way and then blew all that up in such a public manner.

What it really comes down to is that the founders think of the company as theirs, because they started it and own it and are billionaires, and they very much didn’t appreciate their employees dictating how it should be run. That’s not at all unusual in private companies and it caused strife. Hell, we had the same thing happen in miniature on Qt3 with the split a couple years back. Tempest in a teacup, but it feels like the same sort of thing.

I suspect most business owners are “kind-of-dicks,” but this blog post about the matter and the fact they made a severance offer to anyone who wanted out instead of just saying, “don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you” militates somewhat against this deeply-ingrained prejudice of mine.

Six months no questions asked severance for someone that voluntarily resigns probably explains most of the departures. I really like my job, but that would be tempting some days when I’m thinking of making a big career change (as one does occasionally mid career).

But the discussion seems to have come organically in response to racist stuff that was happening inside the company – not people bringing outside controversies into the workspace:

Saying that people couldn’t discuss social issues was essentially saying that people couldn’t call out other people at the company for racist behavior.

I have a hard time seeing how this is all that horrifying on anyone’s part.

My total outsider read is that either the culture got a little to circular-firing-squad in the view of leadership – and man can that get toxic and miserable, even for people who agree on the vast majority of topics – or something caught HR/legal’s eye and they told leadership they were looking at some serious liability over something or another.

That severance offer is extremely generous for an American company, sheesh. Keep in mind these are likely in-demand professionals. They’ll be fine.

As for the “racist names” list, that’s a pretty classic “dumbass thing that got out of hand and should have been shut down as soon as the first person complained about it or really before, but probably someone in leadership thought it was funny and ‘part of the culture’ so it kept going until kaboom.”

Was “the list” all that racist from the description, to my read, or indicative of some horrible attitude in the company that requires maximal scarlet letters for everyone involved? Probably not. But it is absolutely not work-appropriate and is the kind of thing that as soon as it makes the first person look sideways at it, the harm it’s done has well outweighed any benefit.

So congrats on the completely idiotic unforced error there, I guess.

Exactly. Given how they likely can land jobs pretty quickly, this is probably a 1 month paid holiday before getting back to work, pocketing 5 extra months salary for the trouble. Again, I think 6 months severance would prompt many Americans with decent jobs to think of jumping ship for the potential bonus.

Something has to be prioritized over the other, I’d suggest someone is kidding themselves if they think a company can have 2 co-equal top priorities.

I read the statements of the co-owners, they just want their company to get out of the political opinion business, as they have concluded that it is not compatible with their business mission. They also cut targeted employee benefits that could be seen as “nudging” preferred behaviors, and increased compensation to make up the gap. But at the same time, they didn’t tell any of their employees what to do on their own time with their own assets.

If I were a potential customer for the company, I would not see that as a negative.

There are degrees, making fun of peoples’ names is pretty light. We had a one guy apply for a job Dildar Mahaboob, I made fun of his name and honestly, still see no reason not to continue doing so. Keeping a list and passing it around is potentially damaging to the business and shouldn’t be allowed but is it racist? I dunno about that. It isn’t nice, but all dickish behavior isn’t racist.

That said we haven’t seen the list so maybe it had perjorative or racist comments sprinkled throughout or something. Something more than laughing about Dildar like 11 year olds. I guess I could see it being racist against black people with faux-African first names, with some added commentary, for example. I’ve heard that out in the wilderness but wouldn’t stand for it at work.

I’m sure you wouldn’t but essentially declaring that the company’s mission stand opposed to social justice is not a winning move from a business perspective. I also don’t think it’s clear that it’s the case, here, so there’s little reason to go that route.

That’s an awfully uncharitable reading of “we’re not going to take a corporate position on this issue”.

As I said, I don’t think that’s what they’re saying (even if they believed it it’d be a damn fool thing to let slip), I’m just discussing Rick’s characterization.

The internal situation was definitely a problem. Only the people who are angry and quitting are talking about it. The ones who wanted a less toxic work environment and complained to management are laying low because they don’t want to get mobbed.

It is kind of amazing to watch people righteously pocket more money than the typical American makes in a year like it’s a statement and get cheered on by Silicon Valley types.

Who knows what the right way to handle this was, though. Sad.