James Watt, co-founder of Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog, has apologised and “promised to take action” after former employees accused the company of fostering a culture of fear.
The open letter to BrewDog, which was published on Twitter and signed by more than 75 former employees, stated: “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.
“Forgive us if we feel any of the claims made recently about changing the business seem insincere; for as long as any one of us can remember, we have never seen anything that has made us feel like BrewDog has lived the values it purports to uphold. 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 have left.”
The letter also addressed Watt directly. It said: “It is with you that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies. Your attitude and actions are at the heart of the way BrewDog is perceived, from both inside and out. By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams. 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?”
The letter also told current employees they have a choice. It said: “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. Now is the time for genuine, meaningful change at BrewDog – and we mean more than starting the search for a mental health ambassador or pointing staff to an HR team that is often perceived to be there solely to protect the company. We mean starting with a genuine apology from anyone and everyone who has worked for BrewDog and treated people like objects; harassing, assaulting, belittling, insulting or gaslighting them. It’s the absolute minimum we should expect from you.”
In response Watt has released an open letter, which said: “I wanted to give you all an update in light of the recent Punks With Purpose open letter. At BrewDog, we are focused 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 to 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 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.”