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What you can learn from the ‘BrewDog saga’: Company culture and leadership

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Described as a “punk” ethos, BrewDog was and is built on a cult of personality, with the “craft” beer giant priding themselves on being a company where every Millennial and Gen-Z crave to work. But it was the same punk cult that has allegedly left 300 former employees in fear when an open letter from, Punks with Purpose published at the start of the month. The letter stating that the toxicity of workplace culture was such, “that a significant number of people have admitted they have suffered mental illness as a result of working at BrewDog”.

The Punks with Purpose open letter was a pivotal moment in reiterating how important employee wellbeing and company culture is. To see people united in finding their voice and making a stand on what is and isn’t acceptable treatment of employees sets a strict standard that a toxic workplace will no longer be tolerated. For too long companies have been able to hide the mistreatment and their toxic cultures from the outside world due to the employees fear of the consequences if anything was said.

The big learning curve for companies is to finally listen to the truth of ‘people before profit’.  I have personally experienced a toxic culture, and as a result, I lost who I was and started to question everything I knew. The road back to feeling like me again was not an easy one and I do not wish anyone else to have to make that journey.

Companies need to wake up to the responsibility they have to their workforce as well as their shareholders and it’s time for both parties to be taken care of equally.

People are a company’s biggest asset and sometimes the only point of difference. The ‘war for great talent’ is also only going to increase with the pace of change we are experiencing and the evolution in how we work. Now is the time to invest in employees, make them feel valued and championed, and offer them a way of working that suits their lifestyle. Get to know your employees personally; only once you understand what makes a person tick, can you then enable them to work to their full potential.

The pandemic has helped to highlight the value of life, and also given people the opportunity to reflect on what is important to them. The increased awareness of mental health and wellbeing is building stronger boundaries in people, and teams, and as a result people are honouring themselves and not letting companies take advantage of them.

Your employees’ basic right is to feel safe when they go to work. Google’s findings show that psychological safety is the most important factor for your company’s culture. Feeling safe and true to themselves will enable employees to share ideas more comfortably, be their authentic self, and grow their strengths and talents.

Companies need to stop believing ‘culture is the fluffy stuff’, they need to start taking action, and use the BrewDog saga as an opportunity to reset and review their company environment, including their values, beliefs, and attitude towards their employees and how they are treated.

Companies should take this opportunity to be the leaders their teams deserve to have.

Since the Punks with Purpose open letter, co-founder and CEO, James Watt has come forward with an official response to say he was “sorry” and that he will “listen, learn and act”. Adding, “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,” he said.

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