'Lies, hypocrisy & deceit' | BrewDog at centre of serious HR allegations by former employees

BrewDog at centre of serious HR allegations by former employees

Multinational brewery and pub chain BrewDog – who is often lauded for being an example of a good firm that takes ethical consideration seriously – has been hit with a series of serious allegations detailed in an open letter, written by a group of people claiming to be former team members at the firm.

Posted to Twitter via the @PunksWPurpose account, the letter, signed by several names as well as 45 other alleged former staffers who claimed that they “did not feel safe to include either their names or initials”, detailed various accusations, regarding its culture, its ‘lies and deceit’, as well as treatment of staff.

Details of the accusations, as per the open letter, include:

  • Staff feeling they suffered from mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog

  • Growth coming ahead of anything else, including staff physical and mental wellbeing

  • Details that Pawternity leave – BrewDog’s well-publicised extra holiday benefit that staff apparently get when they adopt a puppy or rescue dog – is not so easy to take

  • Safety concerns across many departments at the firm

  • Toxic attitudes from senior staff towards junior staff and issues with company culture

  • Staff feeling pressured to work beyond capacity and widespread burnout issues

  • Employees feeling fearful at work

  • Implication that health and safety guidelines might’ve been bypassed

  • An HR team that is perceived not to think about people

At this moment in time, via a response, from BrewDog’s co-Founder James Watt, on Twitter, these accusations are not being contested.

The BrewDog that many know

The allegations in this letter will shock many.

BrewDog has worked hard to position itself as a company that balances business needs with ethical and people considerations.

On its website, a page named ‘Our Charter’ details that “it all comes back to our people” stating that “everything we do is for our team and the craft beer fans”.

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The firm claims to have a vision to be “the best company to work for…ever” and writes that company culture is important to the business.

In fact, in a previous HR Grapevine magazine issue, we covered the extensive communication and wellbeing provisions that BrewDog reports it delivers for staff.

In addition, BrewDog stated that staff can challenge their managers, colleagues and processes and can put forward their own business proposals, adding that “we are in this together”.

These dedications to people, as well as customers, sit alongside ethical promises – such as statements about ‘profit not being king’ and minimising the company’s environmental impact.

‘Lies, hypocrisy and deceit’

However, the company that many consumers and HR practitioners feel they may know is definitely described differently by the apparent former employees who posted an open letter to Twitter on June 9th.

The letter, signed by a self-stated list of former BrewDog team members, details many serious issues with company culture and working practices.

A section of the letter reads: “In a post-truth world, you have allowed the ends to justify the means, time and time again. Lies, hypocrisy and deceit can be useful tools; PR campaigns repeated over and over on LinkedIn – until you actually believe them yourselves – is good for driving awareness, and if anyone questions the validity of your claims, you can simply move on to the next campaign.

“How many more times will we see… awarding an Employee of the Month over a sweary can (which was not an accident and was actually approved for print by James), or offering Pawternity leave (which many staff are simply never permitted to take)? Worse, by placing personalities at the centre of your messaging, you have inflated egos and fostered a culture within craft beer that deifies founders, and gives weight to sexist and misogynistic brewers who claim to be standing up for free speech…(sic)”

‘Shared experience of fear’

Elsewhere, the letter went on to claim that former staff experienced a “residual feeling of fear” – whether this was speaking out about the current atmosphere they were in, or the repercussions they may face after leaving the organisation.

The letter continued: “Hell, the company once set up a staff committee, under the guise of assembling a team of well-respected individuals to tackle cross-departmental projects, who at their first meeting discovered the actual main task of the group was to address the culture of fear in the business.

“Well, we can tell you now, you could have asked any single person in the company how to address it, and every one of them could have told you the answer – but you wouldn’t have liked it,” it added.

There are further accusations and implications of mental health issues sparked by working at BrewDog – junior staff having a tough time, overwork, burnout and favouritism.

Alleged treatment of staff

In addition, the letter also alleged a disconnect between the firm’s claim of wanting to be the best employer and reality.

“You spent years claiming you wanted to be the best employer in the world, presumably to help you to recruit top talent, but ask former staff what they think of those claims, and you’ll most likely be laughed at. Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog,” the letter read.

Accusations levelled at, and response from, Founder

James Watt, Co-Founder of BrewDog, was named checked several times in the letter.

The co-signed accusation stated that issues with culture, burnout and the business are, ultimately, his responsibility.

It explained: “In the wake of your success are people left burnt out, afraid and miserable. The true culture of BrewDog is, and seemingly always has been, fear. You go on LinkedIn and claim the buck stops with you, but do you have the guts to look at the team you have built around you and admit that the overwhelming majority of them are quietly afraid that their next mistake could be their last at BrewDog?”

In response, Watt took to Twitter this morning to respond. (HR Grapevine also received a copy of the company reply which carries the same message).

In an uploaded image, he wrote: “Hey everyone, I wanted to give you all an update in-light of the recent Punks with Purpose open letter.

“At BrewDog we are focussed on building the best business we can, 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 listen, learn, and act.

“As a fast-growing business, we have always tried to do the best by our team – we do have thousands of employees with positive stories to tell as a result. But the tweet we saw last night proves that on many occasions we haven’t go it right. 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,” Watt added.

“It’s hard to hear these comments, but it must have been harder to say them. We appreciate that and we will endeavour to honour that effort and courage with real change it deserves. We aren’t going to make excuses, we’re going to take action. From our commitment to sustainability to our passion for beer, BrewDog has always been defined by taking responsibility and continually improving. This is no exception."

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