Scottish craft beer company BrewDog has had to apologise to former employees after they accused the firm, including one of its co-founders, of fostering a toxic workplace culture. In a letter posted on Twitter, 61 former employees and a further 45 who didn’t wish to identify themselves accused BrewDog of encouraging a “culture of fear” where staff were bullied and “treated like objects”.
The former workers posted the letter under the group name, Punks with Purpose, which stems from BrewDog’s flagship brand Punk IPA. They claim that the company’s rapid growth came at the expense of health and safety, promoting values that it never actually practised and creating a culture that was so toxic it left many suffering from mental health problems.
“Growth, at all costs, has always been perceived as the number one focus for the company,” alleges the letter. “Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog,” the letter said.
“Sexist and misogynistic”
Staff claimed that the company would do anything for publicity and to promote its business goals. They claim that while the company published a ‘pawternity leave’ policy for pet owners, they never allowed staff to take it.. They added that the firm spoke out about “wanting to save the planet” but were chartering flights across the Atlantic and cut proceeds from a charity product.
The staff letter continued, “By placing personalities at the centre of your messaging, you have inflated egos and fostered a culture within craft beer that defies founders and gives weight to sexist and misogynistic brewers who claim to be standing up for free speech“.
The Punks with Purpose campaign currently has over 300 signatures from former and current workers. The letter blames BrewDog co-founder James Watt for the company’s “rotten culture“, saying “in the wake of your success are people left burnt out, afraid and miserable“.
“Listen, learn and act”
Watt took to LinkedIn to respond to the claims, posting: “At BrewDog, our people are our main priority, which is why the open letter we saw on Twitter was so upsetting but so important. Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act.
“We are committed to doing better, not just as a reaction to this, but always; and we are going to reach out to our entire team past and present to learn more. But most of all, right now, we are sorry.”
What is workplace culture, and why does it matter?
Workplace culture is often described as embedding the personality and character of the organisation. However, for BrewDog, rather than cultivating its traditions, values, behaviours, interactions and attitudes, it seems to have focused more on promoting the brewer’s rebellious ‘punk’ personality; and that’s where the company has come unstuck.
Positive workplace culture drives engagement, attracts talent, impacts employee satisfaction and can improve performance. From leadership and management to workplace practices, policies and people, all aspects of the business influence workplace culture.
As the BrewDog example shows, many businesses will readily boast on social media about their values, such as their togetherness, integrity and openness; but for the people on the inside of the organisation, their experience is very different. They soon discover that these words are just for show, especially when it comes to senior management; and many staff aren’t afraid to speak out.
It may be an old cliché, but it’s true; actions speak louder than words. For a business to thrive, everyone (especially management) must act on the values that help build a people-centric culture. This means listening to staff, setting strong but fair boundaries, being consistent, giving praise, resisting blame, and being generous with your time but then knowing when to step back to allow staff the space they need to be creative. Creating a positive, people-centric workplace culture may not be easy, to begin with, but it’s a challenge that business leaders must be prepared to take on if they want to take their business to the next level.
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