David Heinemeier Hansson

December 9, 2022

Meta goes no politics at work (and nobody cares)

It's not even been a full two years since we said no thanks to discussing societal politics internally at 37signals. The drama that decision created was immense, and all-consuming for a few weeks. We trended on Twitter for a while, there were countless, breathless articles covering the move, and ultimately, we said farewell to twenty-some employees as a result. We weren't the first to do this, just early, and being early can be costly. But the results, despite the (very) difficult transition, have ultimately been worth it.

This is what I wrote about our decision at the time:

By trying to have the debates around such incredibly sensitive societal politics inside the company, we're setting ourselves up for strife, with little chance of actually changing anyone's mind. These types of discussions are so difficult that even if we were having them at the best of times, together in person, with trust batteries fully charged, we'd struggle. And we have none of those advantages right now, so it's not a surprise the results have been poor.

We also like to tell ourselves that having these discussions with the whole company is "healthy". I used to think that too, but I no longer do. I think it's become ever more stressful, unnerving, and counterproductive. No comment thread on Basecamp is going to close the gap on fundamental philosophical and political differences. And we're left worse for wear when we try.

I stand by that analysis. I also stand by our conclusion:

Therefore, we’re asking everyone, including Jason and me, to refrain from using our company Basecamp or HEY to discuss societal politics at work effective immediately.

Next, Basecamp, as a company, is no longer going to weigh-in publicly on societal political affairs, outside those that directly connect to the business. Again, everyone can individually weigh-in as much or as little as they want, but we're done with posts that present a Basecamp stance on such issues.

The long-term benefits of that new etiquette are clear now that we've had to live with the results for a while. It's been a night'n'day improvement inside the company compared to the few years that proceeded it. Again, the most difficult transition we've ever done, but probably also one of the most valuable for the long-term health of our company culture.

It seems like Brian Armstrong from Coinbase has arrived at the same assessment on their even-earlier move to skip societal politics at work. From an interview with Ben Thompson of Stratechery a few days ago:

I would do it over again... I think that’s a much better way to run a company, and many companies have followed suit and emulated it since then. You want to have an environment where everybody’s respected, treated fairly, you can learn from your colleagues, do great work, but it’s focused on the mission. And people aren’t just fighting with each other all day or getting distracted by unnecessary things. Or you don’t have, in the worst case, activists actually hijacking the company for their own purposes, and that’s kind of even worse. So I feel good about that decision.

I think it’s proven to be the right call. And actually even the companies that were the most against it, some of them have reached out and said, “Oh my God, we’re having this problem, how did you guys handle it?” Behind the scenes. So that’s been validating.

Now comes more validation, as Meta just announced internally that they're following the path taken by Coinbase and 37signals. Fortune reported a few days ago that Lori Goler, the head of people at Meta, made the following announcement:

As Mark mentioned recently, we need to make a number of cultural shifts to help us deliver against our priorities. We’re doing this to ensure that internal discussions remain respectful, productive, and allow us to focus. This comes with the trade-off that we’ll no longer allow for every type of expression at work, but we think this is the right thing to do for the long-term health of our internal community.

We’re increasing the number of topics that can no longer be discussed at work based on what we’ve seen to be very disruptive in the past. The issues that can no longer be discussed include health matters such as vaccine efficacy and abortion, legal matters such as pending legislation, political matters such as elections or political movements, and weapon ownership and rights.

We’ve updated our employee expectations to provide direction around what is appropriate for our people in the workplace, so that we can reduce distractions while maintaining an environment that is respectful and inclusive and where people can do their best work.

We are often asked to sign on to advocacy letters on topics that are important, but not directly connected to our work. This can distract us from focusing on issues that are not central to our mission. So going forward, as a company we will only make public statements on issues that are core to our business, meaning they are required in order to provide our service.

So virtually the same etiquette pivot around societal politics at work, and the same declaration that Meta won't be making political statements unrelated to its business going forward as well.

You'd think that such an important shift for a company that still has more than 70,000 employees would be A Very Big Deal to all the journalists, activists, and internet commentators who lost their shit when Coinbase and 37signals first took that position. Especially since Meta isn't even offering employees who might disagree with the new policy the generous buy-out offers that Coinbase and we did. But you'd be wrong. It's been crickets.

In fact, I didn't even notice the original report from Fortune until Business Insider picked it up in very muted tones a few days later. A Twitter thread covering the change from a New York Times reporter similarly got zero traction.

But that's what real progress looks like. That we in less than two years can go from no-politics etiquettes being major industry news, when a company of sixty people does it, to being a complete nothingburger, when a company of 70,000+ does it.

It also connects directly to my prediction from a couple of weeks ago that we're in the waning days of DEI's dominance. Most people are simply ready to move on from this nonsense. They don't actually want to discuss abortion, gun rights, vaccine efficacy, or elections with their coworkers during work hours in work forums. And they shouldn't have to.

So let's hope the fact that Meta's new no-politics etiquette dropped with zero waves will convince other companies that it's safe for them to do the same. After living with this type of etiquette for some time now, I would not want to go back.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Creator of Ruby on Rails, co-owner & CTO of 37signals (Basecamp & HEY), best-selling author (REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, REMOTE), Le Mans class-winning racing driver, antitrust advocate, investor in Danish startups, frequent podcast guest, and family man.