Thursday 10 June 2021 10:25 am

BrewDog accused of ‘vanity projects’ and fostering a culture of fear among staff

BrewDog has been accused of being a “toxic” employer that has led staff to feel fearful and suffer mental health issues as a consequence of working at the company.

In an open letter to BrewDog, 61 former employees, plus a minimum of 45 others who “did not feel safe” to include their names or initials, levied numerous damaging accusations at the brewery.

They alleged there were safety concerns at the business and that staff experienced a “residual feeling of fear” while working there.

The letter said working at the company led staff to become mentally ill, and alleged staff had been asked to cut corners for the business that many felt uneasy with, including bypassing customs when sending beer to the US.

“It doesn’t matter which part of the business we worked in… we all felt that in our day-to-day working lives, there were at best hurdles, and at worst genuine safety concerns,” the letter said.

“So many of us started our jobs there eagerly, already bought into the BrewDog ethos, only to very quickly discover that ‘fast-paced’ meant ‘unmanageable’ and ‘challenging’ meant ‘damaging’.

“Put bluntly, the single biggest shared experience of former staff is a residual feeling of fear. Fear to speak out about the atmosphere we were immersed in, and fear of repercussions even after we left.”

The letter added that “a significant number of people have admitted they have suffered mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog.”

‘Good people doing bad things’

Ex-staff also accused the brewery of “vanity project” PR campaigns, as an example, they pointed to BrewDog’s desire to “save the planet” while making use of a private jet.

The brewery is well known for its large-scale campaigns, last year, for example, it developed a beer called Barnard Castle Eye Test, following former chief advisor Dominic Cummings’ now infamous trip to Durham when he had Covid-19.

BrewDog said it used the profits from the beer sales to go to funding its production of free sanitiser for the NHS & health care charities.

Addressing CEO and co-founder James Watt directly, the letter continued: “It is with you that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies… In the wake of your success are people left burnt out, afraid and miserable.”

Then, speaking directly to those still at the company, and alleging staff have been asked to carry out tasks they are uncomfortable with, the letter added: “The next time you are pressured into doing something against your will, or working in such a way that it will affect your mental health, push back. It is absolutely not worth it.

“The only reason BrewDog has become what it is, is that under immense pressure, good people have done bad things to achieve the job set before them, in such a way that benefits only the company.

“Being told to ignore health and safety guidelines? Don’t. Someone’s demanding you send beer to an event in the USA by bypassing customs? Nope. We know sometimes it feels as though you are part of something bigger, something special and unique – but ask yourself, is that worth the s*** you have to deal with?”

‘We are sorry’

In response to the letter, BrewDog’s Watt said: “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.

“At BrewDog we are focused on building the best business we can. We have always tried to do the best by our team — we do have many 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 got 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.

“It’s hard to hear those comments, but it must have been harder to say them. We appreciate that and we will endeavour to honour that effort and courage with the 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.”