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Want to be a model employee? Just shut up and knuckle down

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Arwa Mahdawi
·2-min read
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<span>Photograph: Posed by models/Getty</span>
Photograph: Posed by models/Getty

Looking for a new job? I have a feeling technology company Basecamp may be hiring! Last week, a third of Basecamp’s employees resigned after the company, which makes productivity software, announced it was banning “societal and political discussions” on workplace messaging platforms.

“Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” said Basecamp’s CEO, Jason Fried, in a blogpost. “It’s a major distraction.” After outlining why banning his underlings from discussing politics was in everyone’s best interest, Fried announced another new company policy: “No more paternalistic benefits.” Basecamp’s leadership had decided offering employees a fitness benefit was patronising and intrusive, apparently.

Basecamp isn’t the first company to try to purge itself of politics. Last year, Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, called social activism a divisive “distraction” that was negatively affecting productivity. The company announced it would be discouraging political discussions and offered a severance package to any employee unhappy with this policy. Last week, Coinbase’s CEO cheered on Basecamp’s decision to follow its lead, stating that making such a decision “takes courage in these times” and asking “Who will be next?”

I dunno who’s going to be next, but it seems unlikely Basecamp and Coinbase will be one-offs. I think we’re going to see a trend of mega-privileged CEOs styling themselves as courageous thought-leaders for essentially telling their employees to shut up and work. It’s sort of tragically hilarious. These people fancy themselves as intellectuals, yet they seem incapable of understanding that “politics” isn’t a neatly self-contained issue that doesn’t overlap with anything else. I don’t know how clueless you have to be to think you can possibly separate politics from everyday life.

Actually I do. Early in my career, one of the senior people at the company where I worked made homophobic comments about me. I went to HR to complain, and suggested a few ways the company could make itself a more welcoming place for LGBT employees. “The thing is,” said the HR representative, smiling patronisingly at me from a desk filled with pictures of her family, “not everyone wants to bring their personal life or politics into the office.” Me wanting to be treated with respect at work? That was political, apparently. That episode happened more than a decade ago. I thought the world had moved on. Seems like it hasn’t.

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist