Coinbase offers exit packages for staffers unhappy with no-politics stance

Coinbase offers exit packages for staffers unhappy with no-politics stance

Coinbase is offering "generous separation packages" to employees angry about CEO Brian Armstrong's public declaration that the cryptocurrency giant will keep out of political and societal issues such as the 'Black Live Matter' movement.

On Sunday, Armstrong posted a blog titled 'Coinbase is a mission focused company' on Medium in which he sets out how the company will "engage in broader societal issues during these difficult times".

In short, he writes: "We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus".

Armstrong argues that while engaging in social activism may be well intentioned, it has the "potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction, and by creating internal division".

He cites "internal strife" at Google and Facebook as examples of the dangers of engaging in issues outside of a company's core business and says "I believe that most employees don't want to work in these divisive environments".

"We won’t:

  • Debate causes or political candidates internally
  • Expect the company to represent our personal beliefs externally
  • Assume negative intent, or not have each others back
  • Take on activism outside of our core mission at work"

In his post, Armstrong mentions "employee walkouts" at the firm. In a Twitter thread, Erica Baker, director of engineering at GitHub, says that earlier this year a "large portion" of Coinbase's engineering team "walked off the job" because Armstrong refused to put out a statement affirming that 'Black Lives Matter' in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Baker's assertion has been corroborated by The Verge.

Armstrong responded to the walkout by posting a Twitter thread saying 'Black Lives Matter' but the controversy appears to have contributed to the new "mission focused" push.

In an internal email, obtained by The Block, Armstrong acknowledges that some employees "have expressed disappointment and hurt" with the policy.

"Given the clarity we now have about this direction, I know that some of you are thinking about whether Coinbase is the right place for you to stay."

The firm is offering people who want to quit four months' severance if they have been with the firm for less than three years, and six months' severance if they have been there for longer.

"It's always sad when we see teammates go, but it can also be what is best for them and the company," he writes.

Coinbase's blunt refusal to be drawn into wider societal issues is at odds with the stance of many firms, which have been eager to voice their support, in particular, for 'Black Lives Matter'.

Some have gone beyond statements - for example PayPal committed $550 million to black and minority businesses and communities.

Meanwhile Twitter and Square chief Jack Dorsey, a Bitcoin-enthusiast, has had his say, suggesting that the very nature of crypto means it has to be linked to wider societal issues.

Comments: (9)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 30 September, 2020, 17:371 like 1 like

This is smart business. Workplace is not a social experiment it is work, and if people want to intertwine personal activism with their work day an employer is free to ask them to move on. No one is required to work at coin base

Russell Bell
Russell Bell - Fastbase Ltd - Wellington 01 October, 2020, 02:18Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Armstrong believes he's making a principled stance, clearly.  Smart business if he's right in believing a good portion of his staff and customers share his view.

Is the generous severence given if people are quitting for this reason only, or for any reason ?

Vernon Crabtree
Vernon Crabtree - My comments are my own - Utrecht 01 October, 2020, 08:241 like 1 like

Companies impact peoples lives. As such, they have an obligation to make peoples lives at the very least NOT worse by their existence (here I mean suppliers and the communities in which those suppliers operate as well as customers and the impact of the use of the companies producs and services have in their communities). It is not OK to say "I am here to make money, not to get involved".
You ARE involved and you must take social responsibility for your impact.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 01 October, 2020, 15:51Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Great move. MSV is a full time and a half job. Doesn't leave employees with time to get diverted into all this "purpose" BS.

Russell Bell
Russell Bell - Fastbase Ltd - Wellington 01 October, 2020, 21:21Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I'd be a bad employer if I told my staff what moral & political views I expected them to hold.  I'd make a hypocrite of myself; inevitably I'd choose expedient, popular views, not views derived from personal convictions.  Sometimes the fashionable views would coincide with my own beliefs but not always. Maybe not even often.

I'd encourage and retain not just people who shared these views, but also hypocrites and liars, people willing to say anything to advance their careers.

I'd lose talented people.  I'd lose not just people who opposed those views, but also people who believe the personal and professional domains should remain separate.  People whose moral compass is strong and who don't want to be told by someone else - especially not their employer - that it should point east or west or north or south.

Lawrence Kinsella
Lawrence Kinsella - OneMarketData LLC - New York 09 October, 2020, 17:45Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Russell I think you're correct however he's not saying what they have to think he's just saying don't do it at work. There's way too much divisiveness in the world and having coffee pot chats about politics or gender Etc is not going to solve anything but rather risk dividing the work place. Just focus on the job. and be civil to each other. Not hard. And let's keep in mind these issues only arise with politically correct sensitivities. If an Aryan Nation member wanted the same concessions would he get the same concessions or respect?

Russell Bell
Russell Bell - Fastbase Ltd - Wellington 11 October, 2020, 21:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I wasn't suggesting Armstrong was an example of a bad employer, quite the opposite, he's doing the right thing, discouraging his staff from social/political proselytism in the workplace, and declaring that his company won't represent any particular package of beliefs.  An employer should keep out of social & political issues, unless they're relevant to the industry, e.g. you'd expect to hear statements from a mining company about such things as explosive hazards and heavy-metal water runoff.  Though words are just words, you'd hope the public and media, and the courts, would judge companies by their actions rather than their words.

Vernon Crabtree
Vernon Crabtree - My comments are my own - Utrecht 12 October, 2020, 08:23Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Russell, "unless they're relevant to the industry". We are in the industry of payments. You well know that the means of payment and how it is enforced can benifit one party over another. Any company involved in this process takes a stance.
Coinbase is saying "we don't care as long as we are making money". This is prioritising one thing over another - namely: integrity.
Let me ask you: what is the basis of trust?

Russell Bell
Russell Bell - Fastbase Ltd - Wellington 12 October, 2020, 22:32Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The bulk of the payments industry is an aspect of the traditional banking & financial sector.  Not a bunch of disruptive outsiders.  The sector as a whole has huge influence with regulators and uses that influence to raise barriers to entry and squash potential competition.  Genuine outsiders don't stand a chance.  Anti-competitive behaviour, that's a relevant moral issue for the industry.

If Coinbase operates in a competitive market, there's nothing wrong with them setting out to make money.  Nothing wrong with a company saying "our goal is to make money for our shareholders and we do that by giving value to customers."  Pretending to care isn't caring.  Refusing to pretend is an act of integrity.

The companies that are the biggest advocates of social activism are by and large companies with reason to be ashamed; companies that exploit a monopoly of one sort or another, are perpetually insecure about public perception, so are constantly looking to white-wash (or green-wash) their image.  Companies that don't say to their customers "choose to trust us, here's why" but rather "you have no choice but to trust us."