Bolstering wellbeing with a new kind of benefit

This year, BrewDog is rolling out an exciting mental health and wellbeing initiative that, if Group People Director Karen Bates is correct, will revolutionise the support that staff recieve. myGrapevine magazine sits down with the firm to find out more...

Words by Kieran Howells

It’s highly like that you’ve heard of BrewDog. You may have seen it adorning colourful cans of craft beer in your local supermarket, or badged onto a tap in your local pub. You may have seen it daubed across a marquee outside one of the brand’s many bars, hotels or taprooms, spanning from the UK to Europe, and across the pond to America.

It's been a rollercoaster ride to the top for the plucky craft beer giant. Founded in sleepy Aberdeenshire by CEO James Watt and his partner Martin Dickie back in 2007, the duo made headlines for placing environmental and social governance at the heart of their business model. However, ascending to the ranks of alcoholic iconography hasn’t been without its trials and tribulations.

BrewDog has courted controversy several times, both for its zany marketing campaigns and, more importantly, the allegations made against its CEO for creating what some have called an unsavoury working environment.


Karen Bates

Group People Director

The Brewdog of 2023

However, the culture within Brewdog in 2023 places huge importance on employee experience. Outlined in a document it calls the BrewDog Blueprint, the company has pushed ahead with new L&D initiatives, access to an independent ethics hotline, employee stock ownership (around 25% of the company is now owned by staff), a new ‘transparency dashboard’ and, in its latest move, a partnership with a brand-new service offering tailored to mental health and wellbeing support for all 3,000 staff across the world.

This new service will allow us to be so much more targeted with our approach to wellbeing, rather than simply reacting to what we’re hearing on the grapevine

According to Karen Bates, BrewDog’s Group People Director, the new service, provided by Happence, was actually an initiative initially raised by Watt himself.

“James, our CEO, got talking to DR Stephen Pereira (Happence’s CEO), about the platform and thought it sounded amazing. So, he raised it with me, and asked me if he thought it’d be a good fit for us. I thought it was incredibly impressive, so we went for it.”


Moving away from ‘one-size-fits-all’

Whilst Bates says that BrewDog have adopted successful wellbeing initiatives in the past, she believes this new initiative will provide staff with less of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and instead, focus on providing personalised, tailored support to each and every member of the BrewDog workforce.

“This new service will allow us to be so much more targeted with our approach to wellbeing, rather than simply reacting to what we’re hearing on the grapevine. Each staff member will fill out a questionnaire, which will lead to them receiving far more personalised solutions. It allows us to have 3,000 individualised wellbeing strategies. Then, if we see similar patterns in the data, such as 100 people having issues with their sleep, we can go even further and dedicate more time and resource where it will count,” she says.

It really does tailor what it offers to the individual. It’s your way of learning, rather than what works for most people

The resources offered to staff as a result of their answers to the questionnaires provided by the Happence platform vary massively, depending on their results. For example, Bates explains that resources will range from simple guidance and advice, to webinars, podcasts, articles and even suggested books.

“It may say to me that a solution to an issue I’m facing may well be to practice meditation. It would then direct me to online meditation classes, or a podcast on getting into meditating. It really does tailor what it offers to the individual. It’s your way of learning, rather than what works for most people.”

BrewDog’s benefits:

  • Sabbatical

    At BrewDog, you get four weeks full paid leave – beyond your normal holiday allocation – for every five years of service.

  • BrewDog Salary Cap

    No-one can join the business for a salary higher than 7x what the lowest full-time salary is.

  • Mental Health Support

    By the end of 2022, 10% of employees will be qualified Mental Health First Aiders.

  • Private Healthcare

    BrewDog has healthcare schemes in place for its employees.

  • Real Living Wage

    BrewDog pays the real living wage, as set annually by the Living Wage Foundation, since 2014.

  • DE&I Forum

    The crew-led Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Forum meets weekly to drive actions and build on BrewDog’s inclusive approach.

  • Employee Representative Group

    Set up in 2021, the elected representatives’ voices are heard in every area of the business. The forums have already led to actions including a new Sick Pay scheme and redesign and enhancement of the welfare space at the HQ in Ellon.

  • Top Dogs

    Each month, BrewDog celebrates four Top Dogs. Employees help choose the winners, who receive £500 cash bonus.

  • Enhanced Pension

    Staff can receive up to 10% employer contributions, invested in sustainable funds.

  • Pawternity Leave

    Staff can take a week’s fully paid leave when they get a dog to help them settle in.

  • Bars Team Support

    The teams in BrewDog’s bars benefit from contractually guaranteed hours, a paid overtime policy for all salaried staff, and its safe ride home funding to support those working late in getting back home.

  • BrewDog Academy

    BrewDog’s monthly online training covers a wide range of topics from people management skills, diversity and inclusion, and beer and business topics.

Taking up the initiative

To take advantage of the offering, BrewDog staff will be able to sign up via an app, with programmes allowing staff to start, pause and continue their own journey without need for outside intervention. The service will also allow staff to track their progress, so they can see improvements in their mood and motivation over time. Yet, as all HR leaders will know only too well, even an initiative that’s easily downloaded in app form is only effective if staff embraces it, and use it sustainably.

It’s just so great having a leader who totally understands how important it is that our people are healthy and happy

However, gaining investment from staff, according to Bates, is simply built into the culture at Brewdog. She notes that the company has a history of constant testing and innovation. This in-built expectation to be agile means that the company can try things, test them with staff and not fear the repercussions of something not working.

“Staff know that we’ll simply carry on trying until we find the thing that works,” she says.

She also notes that the communication piece is fundamental to BrewDog’s experimental ethos. The senior leadership team is honest with staff about where the firm is heading, and has an inbuilt network to help it roll out new initiatives.

“We talk about what we’re doing constantly. We have a network of 150 mental health first aiders that we use as our conduit to help us talk about the benefits of our offerings. We’ll get them bought in, and then they’ll be key to encouraging participation across the company.”


Senior buy-in

Another key benefit of BrewDog’s culture, according to Bates, is the level of buy-in from the senior leadership team when it comes to wellbeing initiatives. Along with the initial suggestion to trial the service, Bates notes that CEO James Watts is heavily invested providing “exemplary support to staff,” and ensures that HR is key on the agenda in senior discussions.

“It’s just so great having a leader who totally understands how important it is that our people are healthy and happy. James is always on the hunt for benefits we can offer people, and is ready to spend to be able to deliver BrewDog’s staff the best working experience possible.”

In fact, Watts is so committed to progressing HR that he himself is due to create content to further the resources available to staff.

“He’s so bought into this that he’ll be doing some of the content with us. That could be videos, that could be podcasts, but I think it makes a statement about our commitment that even the CEO himself is excited to get his hands dirty and get involved,” Bates concludes.

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