Working for an organisation that actively supports employee wellbeing is something that many individuals want. In fact, a study from Deloitte recently revealed that nearly 20% of 24-to-35-year-olds cite wellbeing – alongside a reputation for ethical behaviour and good practise regards diversity and inclusion - as a top factor when choosing an employer. And it’s not just that talent wants to be looked after these days; many employees are struggling at work, putting extra emphasis on the importance of looking after staff wellbeing. Capita’s Workplace Wellness Report 2019 found that eight in 10 of employees say they have felt the sharp effect of work in the last year, with 47% claiming they believe it to be normal to feel stressed and anxious when doing their job.

Yet, if employers looked after their employees better not only would they have workers who are less stressed they’d also get an uptick in business output. Gallup stats show that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability with clear links between employee wellbeing and engagement; Thomsons’ UK Wellbeing Benefits Watch 2016/17 study also works to show this, concluding that “employers that are providing their employees with a wellness pot have significantly more engaged employees than those that don’t.”

What this all highlights is that HR has a very real case to manage and build a tailored wellbeing strategy, a pitch it should be making to the Board. To find out more about how to do this, HR Grapevine spoke with BrewDog, the multinational brewery and pub chain with a reputation for quirky benefits and wellbeing strategies, as it revealed core aspects of its wellbeing approach.


It’s not just about saying that you do wellbeing, it’s about wellbeing being at the core of your culture and what that looks like


Founded in 2007

HQ is in Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Four breweries – Ellon, Brisbane, Ohio, Berlin

105 bars worldwide

2,000 crew members

Over 130,000 Equity Punk investors


Carrying out a phone call with Karen Bates, People Director of BrewDog – the brewery firm founded in 2007 by duo James Watt and Martin Dickie – HR Grapevine was interested in how the firm is driving wellbeing in order to support its employees. In many ways, Karen was able to offer a fresh pair of eyes to the business. After joining BrewDog at the beginning of 2020, Karen realised that the organisation’s internal comms strategy could be doing more in order to support employee wellbeing and wanted to advance it further.

She tells HR Grapevine: “We’ve been looking at how can we do things a bit differently and we’ve just been talking about how we can look after the wellbeing of our people. It’s one of the things when I joined the business at the beginning of the year that I looked at – our overcall comms strategy – and it’s something that wasn’t working great.”

Karen adds that due to the diverse workforce at BrewDog, getting a comms strategy in place that effectively communicates what the business hopes to achieve in terms of supporting each and every staff member’s wellbeing is absolutely essential, otherwise engagement would suffer. She continues: “We have such a diverse workforce we have to make sure that we’re doing comms that attracts everybody and making it meaningful that people will want to go and look at the communication. So it has to be different, engaging and has to be relevant, otherwise people are just not going to engage with it.”



96% of employers have previously stated that they have seen a direct correlation between wellbeing and performance, according to Aon research, giving HR and employers even more reason to drive a strong wellbeing initiative. But why should wellbeing be at the forefront of HR’s mind? According to Karen, it’s what sets companies apart from others and should therefore not be forgotten about or pushed to the side. “I think it’s what sets companies apart now and it’s not just about saying that you do wellbeing, it’s about wellbeing being at the core of your culture and what that looks like,” she explains.

With 2,000 crew members, including staff working in bars, in production and on sales, and 105 bars worldwide, Karen and her HR team certainly have their work cut out for them when it comes to ensuring BrewDog’s own wellbeing strategy is meeting the needs of its wide range of employees. She explains: “When I think about our company we have got our main brewery and production plant is up in Aberdeen, we have got an office out of London, we have got a remote workforce with our field sales team, we have got our retail bars, the guys on production and then we operate across 20 countries, so it’s really difficult to get a comms platform that works for everybody.”

It needs to be bottom up and it needs to be top down that we truly do care about people’s wellbeing

However, that hasn’t stopped Karen spearheading a new initiative that will see the business roll out an app the entire organisation can access to boost communication and wellbeing. The app - which will be rolled out after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided somewhat, and work can take place in a safer manner - will connect every single part of the business together via news feeds and regular updates. She continues: “It will make sure that we are connecting with every single part of our business, but also it will link to everything so instead of having to go onto a system here to go on to HR, or to our Rota Ready system, it will all link through the one app, so it will be one place for absolutely everything.”

This comms-led tack dovetails with contemporary thinking around wellbeing and business performance. The Economist’s 2018 report Communication barriers in the workplace previously revealed that workers believe communication barriers are leading to a delay or failure to complete projects (44%), low morale (31%), missed performance goals (25%) and even lost sales (18%). This indicates how a lack of communication can greatly impact wellbeing in the workplace, something that Karen is keen to stamp out with the help of BrewDog’s wellbeing strategy.


It needs to be bottom up and it needs to be top down that we truly do care about people’s wellbeing



For this comms tack to be a success, Karen warns that it can’t just come from the leadership down. “It needs to be bottom up and it needs to be top down that we truly do care about people’s wellbeing,” she enthuses. While this is the case, she adds that the current unprecedented times has forced HR as a whole to act quickly and think on its feet, particularly when it comes to the wellbeing of employees.

New research from CMI has revealed that managers have witnessed employee wellbeing plummet as a result of the ‘quick but necessary’ move to home working – the fall in wellbeing was higher for managers whose staff had parental responsibilities (59%) with 36% citing that mental health was the key challenge for them. It’s due to stats such as these that Karen tells HR Grapevine that this period of time was particularly telling on how HR leaders were able to manage wellbeing.

She explains: “When COVID-19 was starting, how quick did businesses react to protect their workforces? In terms of equipment, changing the ways of working, putting measures in place, actually when we could and when we got wind of the lockdown, going out and testing how this was going to work; that’s true wellbeing at a workforce that you’re taking it on board.”


During the coronavirus outbreak, BrewDog thought about how it can help, and as part of that the firm decided to switch part of its business from distilling beer to making hand sanitiser. On the date of publication, according to BrewDog’s website, it had packed and donated over 50,000 units to the NHS and local charities.

Speaking on the decision to switch up the business like this, Karen shares: “Our primary aim is we need to make sure that we survive this as a company and we need to make sure we protect as many jobs as we possibly can. So creating the hand sanitiser meant we could keep a lot more people in the business by giving it away.”



While no one could predict the dramatic impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on the world of work, the way in which companies are supporting their staff on a remote basis is taking precedent during this time. This could encompass how HR is building and maintaining communication, what support is in place when it comes to financial worries and mental health, and how the function can build morale between teams who are working remotely.

These are questions Karen has regularly been asking herself as she explains: “How do you make sure people aren’t getting stressed and being overworked, that we know the signs of stress and that the leadership team know what to look out for and can identify it? They may not necessarily have the skills to do it, because people may not be comfortable with that, but at least if they can recognise and signpost to people who are skilled in dealing with issues as they arise.”

To ensure BrewDog is maintaining employees’ wellbeing during this time of isolation, Karen shares that the company has had to adapt its plans to support wellbeing on a remote basis and has rolled out online quizzes, desk yoga and even sent out tips to employees on how to work from home. In addition, the firm is encouraging staff to take up new skills and to use this time to take part in some self-development. She continues: “We have scrapped our plans of all the stuff we were doing and adapted them to how we can do wellbeing with a home working workforce at the moment.

“We have loads of things within our teams. So whether employees are furloughed, home working or in the office, we have a Zoom call with everybody and we call it a ‘punk-o-clock’ where you grab a drink and we all Zoom with each other and take it in turns to do a quiz. It’s stuff we would do if we were in the workplace, so it’s just about how we keep that up. We are all testing our own depths of how we can do this differently; we are all testing ourselves at the moment.”

We have got so much fight in us and we will do it because we have got the team behind us



Maintaining the wellbeing of employees is intrinsically linked to the DNA of BrewDog; Karen points out that the company is recognised for quirky benefits, such as welcoming dogs within its offices, as well as offering a version of annual leave called ‘pawternity leave’ which employees can use to settle in a fury companion. Karen’s argument suggests that the wellbeing of staff is deeply considered by all at the business. But it’s not just through the benefits package that the wellbeing of staff is evident. During the recent coronavirus crisis a lot of innovation has emerged among teams, which has seen BrewDog launch a brand new beer range called ‘Lockdown Lager’. But Karen is keen to acknowledge that while this level of innovation is taking place - which might require quick change and the need to 'step up' - the wellbeing of employees still being taken into account.

“Seeing the pace we are able to work at when we really put our minds to it is unbelievable,” Karen continues, “so it’s about how we keep that up as a business without burning our teams out. That’s one thing we are talking about – how do we maintain what we have right now, because it’s special, really special, how do we maintain it while looking after the wellbeing of our teams.”

But BrewDog and its army of employees isn’t frightened about the task ahead and Karen is confident that thanks to the outlook of individuals and the way in which their wellbeing is supported, the business as a whole will flourish. She concludes: “We have this phrase at the moment, which is it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog and that’s what we keep saying. We have got so much fight in us and we will do it because we have got the team behind us.”


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