a Start-up

Growing a Start-up – The Problem with BrewDog

BrewDog is a key player in the increasingly popular world of craft beer, and they have grown substantially since they were founded in 2007, amassing a workforce of over 130,000.

However, BrewDog was recently caught up in the controversy surrounding a significant number of allegations that have since surfaced from ex-employees.

What happened

In a letter collectively drafted, circulated on Twitter, 61 former workers (45 ex-employees supported the message but refused to share their names for fear of repercussions) alleged that BrewDog’s successful rise in popularity had resulted in a culture that left staff suffering from mental health issues and feeling undervalued, undermined, pushed out and silenced. The Twitter account, @PunksWPurpose, indicated that their mission was to “tackle toxic workplace culture head-on, by promoting positive action”.

To access the ‘Punks With Purpose’ Twitter page, please click here.

To read the ex-BrewDog employees letter, please click here.

The letter was signed by employees from all departments of the company, spanning from production to bartending, sales, operations, packaging, quality, marketing, and HR. The attitude of the two managing directors in growing the company and the treatment of staff was described as “that’s just the way things are”. Staff called the two managing directors out for a history of mistreatment, indicating that at BrewDog, “fast-paced” meant “unmanageable”, and “challenging” meant “damaging”. Staff reported feeling belittled and/or pressured into working beyond their capacity, eventually being forced out of the business. They claimed they were told that this was just how the company operated, and if it didn’t suit them, the only option was to leave.

What can we learn?

It’s clear that valuing growth and speed are two things that will propel a company’s reputation and sales figures. However, it seems that, for BrewDog, the allegation is that this has come at a cost, with internal bullying from management as well as an array of accusations going unnoticed, unchallenged and accepted.

The letter stated that meaningful change was required at BrewDog. They wanted a Mental Health Ambassador and an HR team who genuinely protected the needs and values of the workforce. They also sought a genuine apology for all who had worked for BrewDog, including those who were harassed, assaulted or belittled.

BrewDog responded by stating that “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”. However, they did apologise for some of their failings and they reiterated their commitment to equality.

In terms of the next steps for BrewDog, this will involve quite a lot of reputational damage control, and perhaps a rethinking of their internal operations.

So what can we learn? What should startups bear in mind?

  • Try to get good HR support and internal processes in place early on

When you’re hiring your first few employees, HR can seem like an unnecessary expense, but it’s so important to start on the right foot. This is especially the case if you grow quickly – you want to ensure that you have the right process in place to grow into something you’re proud of, and what represents the company you want to grow in, rather than fixing things down the line.

  • Support mental health

This is important in all companies, but especially in a fast-paced start-up – the pressure means that you will want to support your employees even more and ensure they know where to go and who to turn to when things get too much.

  • Train your managers

This is especially important when you’re growing quickly – alongside good clear processes, you want managers to be able to action those processes and understand why they’re in place. Here at Thrive, we do specific training for managers on using the staff handbook and why it matters.

  • Think about culture, and value it

It’s exciting creating a start-up – it can be whatever you want it to be, and stand for whatever you want. You should identify early on how you want your employees to feel whilst at work, and stick to it. Here at Thrive, we value our employee culture above all else, and we pride ourself on it!

How can Thrive help?

As an owner-run company, we know the pains of having to wear many hats and how time is precious. As qualified employment and HR lawyers, we know the consequences of getting HR decisions wrong. We work with you to let you focus on what you need to be doing in the business with the peace of mind that all letters and decisions are run past a qualified lawyer before you implement them.

When you partner with Thrive for outsourced HR support, we can reduce your stress and free you up to work on the business and to make HR decisions with confidence.

With people at the core of every successful business, keeping on top of the ever-changing legislation and making the most out of your people can be challenging, but we are here to help.

We can also support your business in the event an employee approaches ACAS or the employment tribunal.

Get in touch today to invest in your business and make your HR stress free.


Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions at

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