Workplace

Politics at work? Basecamp's founders say no. Its workers say yes.

Basecamp's founders banned DEI committees, wellness benefits and political activism at work. Employees are furious.

Hey app.

Basecamp's workers are rebelling against the company's new ban on politics at work.

Image: David Pierce

Many of Basecamp's designers, engineers and long-time employees are expressing unusually public anger with their company's co-founders after Basecamp's leaders published a sweeping set of policies banning political conversations, DEI committees and wellness benefits in an explicit effort to reshape company culture.

At least five key figures inside the company have spoken out publicly against the new policies since they were announced yesterday afternoon, and many more have anonymously shared their anger and frustration with Protocol.

The company announced yesterday that it will no longer allow: political or socially activist talk at work; benefits for fitness, wellness and education; dwelling on past company decisions; and 360 performance reviews. In return, Basecamp is focusing on the impact of the company's products, "making calls, explaining why once, and moving on," and implementing a 10% profit-sharing model, according to the policies shared by co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson yesterday.

Jonas Downey, the company's design lead, has been with Basecamp for more than nine years. "I've worked at Basecamp for a long time because it's a company full of smart and kind people, and together we've always tried to take care and do the right things. I don't agree with the changes announced today, and I'm sad and upset," he wrote on Twitter.

Zach Waugh, the company's lead iOS engineer, wrote: "I'm a straight white man in a tech job, it doesn't get much more privileged than that. It would be so easy for me to ignore things that don't affect me. But I don't want things to be easy, I want things to be better."

When Kasper Timm Hansen left the company two weeks ago, he didn't give an explanation. On Monday evening, he finally provided some context, explaining that the founders' post showed the "cracks" in the company culture. "I didn't expect the cracks to start showing this soon and in this way," he wrote. "A company is an institution. It doesn't have to be thought of as a product to be able to change."

Fried and Heinemeier Hansson spent years writing best-selling books about — and encouraging — the cultural norms that they are now prohibiting, including "Rework," which included a series of essays about positive workplace culture. After the announcement attracted criticism on Monday, Fried updated the post to clarify that workers could still discuss politics and activism outside of work, though it would remain prohibited on the Basecamp workplace platform.

The new rules also made a splash among tech leaders and workers outside the company, many of whom wasted no time calling out the co-founders for a policy that they said perpetuates the discriminatory exclusivity inherent to tech bro culture. "It's hypocritical how Basecamp is now a 'leave politics at home' company," wrote Jaana Dogan, a principal software engineer at AWS. "For months, their cofounder was in the news criticizing everyone. It's only a problem when their employees want the same privileges/freedoms on matters directly affecting them."

A version of this story appears in Tuesday's Source Code newsletter. Subscribe here.

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