Brewdog introduces mental health and neurodiversity policies

Karen Bates, chief people officer of Brewdog, told HR magazine its new mental health and neurodiversity policies have created a safe space for staff.

Since it was founded in 2007, beverage company BrewDog has made headlines for its fresh take on brewing but has also been embroiled in controversy. 

From serving drinks inside taxidermy animals to its widely criticised ‘Pink IPA - beer for girls’ International Women’s Day campaign, BrewDog’s disruptive marketing won it a reputation as an industry maverick. 

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In 2021, the brand suffered its biggest scandal to date when 61 former employees, under the name Punks with Purpose, posted an open letter on Twitter accusing BrewDog and its co-founder James Watt of fostering a toxic culture that left staff suffering from mental illness. 

The former employees’ statement said BrewDog’s claims of wanting to be the best employer in the world would be ‘laughed at’ by former staff. 

It said: “Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog.” 

The statement also claimed that some former employees didn’t feel comfortable signing the statement due to the impact of their time at BrewDog on their mental health.

“Suffice to say that a significant number of people have admitted they have suffered mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog, and that signing this would leave them feeling extremely vulnerable,” it said. 

Fast forward to 2023, and BrewDog has introduced a host of wellbeing policies, including a mental health app and most recently, a neurodivergence policy which will allow staff to voluntarily seek assessment and diagnosis for autism and ADHD partnering with mental health service, OneBright. 

Karen Bates, chief people officer at BrewDog, said the policy was created after a staff member mentioned there is a two-year waiting list to be diagnosed. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “One of our crew was telling us about this two year waiting list to get an assessment if you are neurodiverse and that’s when we started research on what we could do as an employer.” 

Any BrewDog employee who has been at the company for over six months is eligible for the assessment, a policy that Bates says “just fits in with our overall approach to the wellbeing of our crew.” 

BrewDog has also made a promise to train at least 10% of its staff as mental health first aiders. 

Bates says the company is careful to support these employees.  

She added: “We have a community of mental health first aiders that we work with. So it's not a case of you've got your training and off you go. 

“We have monthly calls to update on what trends they are seeing in the business and every other month we will do something to help upskill in a particular area. 

“So, if we see that we're getting quite a lot of cases around gambling addiction, then we'll do an update training for our mental health first aiders, give them the skills that they need to be able to work through those cases.” 

Bates is optimistic about the future success of these policies. 

She said: “One of the key things is that our crew now feel more comfortable being open and talking about their own wellbeing.  

“It's not like they need to now go to their line manager to discuss it, there's plenty of other avenues where you can discuss it. 

“People are not hiding stuff anymore.” 

The feedback so far has been positive.

Bates said: “One of the crew said to me, the thing they absolutely love about working at BrewDog is that it's the first place they’ve worked at where they felt truly comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.  

“If we’ve created that safe space where people are happy to be their true selves, we’ve definitely done the right thing.” 

Bates insisted the wellbeing policies were not wholly a response to the letter published two years ago.

“We’d started to do them already,” she said, “That just gave me the opportunity to escalate it and implement it a lot quicker.” 

After the former staff’s allegations, BrewDog underwent a culture review which resulted in the launch of an independently managed ethics hotline and a company-wide salary review, amongst other changes. 

Bates said the review and action plan rigorously executed. 

“We actually worked with both previous and current employees and we left no stone unturned,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to take a real thorough approach.”