Unexpected Consequences

It seemed simple enough, especially in the US, where the populace is politically divided and everyone has an opinion. Build workplace harmony by banning political discussion.

That’s what they did at software company Basecamp. Employees at the water cooler could still argue religion or the merits of their favorite sports team – only politics was verboten.

A third of the 57-person workforce quit because they didn’t like the policy. 

My first thought was that the software industry must be a place where it is easy to find work. I certainly can’t see myself giving up my income if I could no longer tell my co-workers why Donald Trump or Joe Biden was the savior of the country. 

I’m passionate about politics, as you may have noticed. I’ve been involved in civic life as a volunteer and paid staff for close to 50 years. 

But if you told me I couldn’t talk politics at work, I would just shrug and go back to what I was doing. It’s a matter of perspective.

I am a proponent of free speech. I support your right to say things that I disagree with. But I am also supportive of an employer’s right to set workplace conditions. Basecamp didn’t ban political discussion between employees, just doing so using company resources.

Their reasoning seems definsible to me: 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. 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. 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. People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore

Is it fair for Basecamp to change the employment conditions after people have accepted a job? I guess it depends on what the change is. I doubt if the opportunity for political discussion was the reason anyone joined the company. 

It does surprise me that so many employees quit over something that really seems insignificant. I wonder if it was more that management had made a series of moves that employees resented, and this was the last straw. Whichever, if you work in the software field, I know a company that is hiring.

How would you react to such an edict where you work? Do you think Basecamp was justified in setting this new policy, or was it overkill? Feel free to leave a comment.

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