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Basecamp is a business and not about social impact. How will this affect their employee base?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Wow. I always cringe when I check the last time I blogged and it's been longer than I thought it was. I have always loved blogging, but my focus has been elsewhere lately. I find my blogging tends to come in spurts. I won't be inspired to comment on articles for a few weeks, and then out of nowhere there will be so many fantastic things to opine on. I'm in the midst of that now, so stay tuned.

BaseCamp Announcement

You may have heard a few weeks about about software company Basecamp announcing cultural changes they're implementing. The response has been swift and not in a good way.

When I hear about announcements like this, the first thing I wonder about is what led to it. I use my blog to talk about various topics such as obstacle course industry news, but I also love to talk about employee engagement and the often disingenuous actions that companies do to promote "employee engagement". So when a company strips away the BS, my interest is piqued.

Some background

To summarize, BaseCamp's CEO and co-founder Jason Fried shared some updates about new company policies. You can read the post yourself, but at a high-level the updates are:

  1. No more societal and political discussions on internal company resources.

  2. No more paternalistic benefits (things like wellness, fitness benefits, etc.).

  3. No more committees.

  4. No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions.

  5. No more 360 reviews.

  6. Basecamp is a project management company, not a social impact company.

My thoughts

My initial response was "yikes" and I wondered what the employee response was. Fortunately, articles and blog posts on this exact topic have emerged and provided some additional background. When the context is layered in, the original announcement seems hypocritical but also chilling.

It would be one thing if the blog had solely focused on the end of societal and political discussions. In reading some additional articles about this company, many were surprised by this point because the two founders have typically been considered progressive and liberal, and are vocal on their personal social media accounts. I often roll my eyes at the generic marketing messaging we get from companies about their commitment to BLM, diversity, LGBTQ+, mental health, etc. These messages are often insincere. But there's also the argument that silence is complicity. I could write a blog post on this topic in and of itself.

However, there's a difference between internal and external communications, and to have this message come from two Caucasian male leaders seems to exacerbate the problem that many underrepresented groups face--these groups want to be heard and represented, and if there's zero interest from leadership, that can be very disheartening.

Bizarrely, the memo continued. Initially I waffled on some of them, like the removal of the paternalistic benefits. Companies throw many benefits at employees that are positioned as "we care about you and want you to be healthy and happy," when in reality the benefits are offered because it's checking off a box. Some companies don't want that benefit used (personal experience--tuition reimbursement), or they want you to use it so you'll cost the company less money (lose weight or stop smoking so your healthcare premiums will go down).

But the end of committees? Employees love to be heard and while some committees are a waste of time, I have seen committees achieve great success. Committees are a perfect way for management to empower employees and get them to do additional work when leadership can't be bothered. This is called "low-hanging fruit". This very much had a "the beatings will continue until morale improves" feel to it and drove home even more than the first time that leadership isn't interested at all in what their employees want.

The remaining changes were similar and left me thinking I was grateful I didn't work at this company. Ultimately, this post by Basecamp leadership is a reflection of the writer and the culture he wants to create. In poking around theri website, I stumbled upon their guide to internal communication. Clearly it's a culture that dislikes meetings and asks people to share thoughts deliberately.

I couldn't help but wonder what employees had said on Glassdoor and oddly, there was nothing there (if you find it, please let me know). It remains to be seen what the fallout will be from these events, but my guess is they won't be sought out as a company to work for by many.

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