Sizable portion of ‘woke’ workforce resign when CEO limits political talk on company platform

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

In the wake of one-third of the employees at Chicago-based software firm Basecamp opting to exit in response to new company etiquette on political discussions at work, you have to feel for new tech companies being reliant on a workforce full of woke Millennials.

Given the hypersensitivity at play here, these companies are in a world of hurt when so many employees are willing to bail on their jobs just for being asked to keep their political opinions to themselves.

Having ejected God from the public square, politics has become the new religion in post-Obama America, and Basecamp found out the hard way that people worship at that alter with fervor.

Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson touted the changes as a “new etiquette regarding societal politics,” with the company issuing a statement last week introducing the new policy.

Included among the changes was “no more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account.”

“Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” the statement said. “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,” the company continued. “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. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens.”

Granted, Basecamp didn’t ban such discussions altogether, just on the platform used for work. Employees were told they can take the conversations to other platforms like “Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account.”

Other changes announced include an end to “paternalistic benefits,” such as fitness benefits, a wellness allowance, and continuing education allowances. Advisory work committees were also ended and employee performance reviews were simplified.

For many of the employees, the changes were just too much and Hansson offered an extremely generous “no questions asked” buyout package.

“We offered everyone at Basecamp an option of a severance package worth up to six months salary for those who’ve been with the company over three years, and three months salary for those at the company less than that,” he said in a statement. “No hard feelings, no questions asked. For those who cannot see a future at Basecamp under this new direction, we’ll help them in every which way we can to land somewhere else.”

The Verge reported that 18 of the company’s 57 employees took the severance offer.

“Time was when political activism in business was controversial. But in these hyper-political times, refusing to turn your company into a workplace of the woke can make you a target,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote.

After noting the offering of the severance packages, the WSJ added: “So much for goodwill. A day later the Verge website ran a hit piece citing unidentified employees making vague allegations that the company wasn’t committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Among the purported bombshells, Verge revealed that ‘customer service representatives began keeping a list of names that they found funny.’”

As for those claims, the Verge reported that “a bleary-eyed Basecamp CEO Jason Fried gathered his remote workforce together on Zoom to apologize.”

And the call, described by the website as “a wrenching discussion,” did not end well, reportedly leaving several employees in tears. Basecamp’s longtime head of strategy, Ryan Singer, would resign after being “suspended and placed under investigation after he questioned the existence of white supremacy at the company.”

He allegedly “alienated some of his coworkers by promoting conservative views. In 2016, three employees said, he praised right-wing website Breitbart’s coverage of the presidential election in an internal forum,” the Verge noted.

The website offered an account of the Zoom meeting based on interviews with six of the employees who were present.

“Collectively, they describe a company whose attempt to tamp down on difficult conversations blew up in its face as employees rejected the notion that discussions of power and justice should remain off limits in the workplace,” editor Casey Newton wrote. “And they suggest that efforts to eliminate disruptions in the workplace by regulating internal speech may cause even more turmoil for a company in the long run.”

At one point, Singer responded to an employee’s claim that a list of funny customer names kept “laid a foundation that contributes to racist violence and even genocide,” Newton said.

Calling that assertion “absurd,” the  Verge detailed the discussion that followed:

“I strongly disagree we live in a white supremacist culture,” Singer said. “I don’t believe in a lot of the framing around implicit bias. I think a lot of this is actually racist.”

He continued: “Very often, if you express a dissenting view, you get called a Nazi. … I have not felt this is open territory for discussion. If we were to try to get into it as a group discussion it would be very painful and divisive.”

Singer concluded his remarks. Fried responded, “Thank you, Ryan.”

A handful of other speakers followed. Then a Black employee asked if the company could revisit Singer’s remarks. (I’m withholding the employee’s name and other identifying details out of colleagues’ fears that they could be targeted for harassment for speaking out.)

“The fact that you can be a white male, and come to this meeting and call people racist and say ‘white supremacy doesn’t exist’ when it’s blatant at this company is white privilege,” the employee said. “The fact that he wasn’t corrected and was in fact thanked — it makes me sick.”

 

Suffice it to say, things went downhill from there… and there will soon be a plethora of openings at Basecamp.

The company should hope that those exiting include a fair share of the woke brigade.

Tom Tillison

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