BrewDog is partnering with mental healthcare company Onebright in a bid to help staff have access to resources that help neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD, autism and dyslexia .
Explaining the British brewer’s investment in neurodiversity, global people director Karen Bates exclusively tells UNLEASH that it was about tackling head on “how difficult it is to actually get a diagnosis”.
In the UK, there are 700,000 people waiting for a diagnosis of ASD. Although the target wait time is three months, many people are waiting up to four years for a diagnosis for ASD, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental conditions. In fact, it has been reported that in some parts of the UK, individuals are waiting as long as seven years for an assessment.
This is pushing individuals to pay out of pocket for private healthcare – a survey carried out by the UK Parliament found that almost half of people had received a private diagnosis, and 63% had consisted a private assessment for ADHD to speed up the process.
Bates shares: “We thought, this is crazy, what can we do to help? We need to do what we can to help our crew”; this is what BrewDog calls its employees.
So Bates and the HR team worked with BrewDog’s diversity, equity inclusion (DEI) forum to do some research, and they came across Onebright. “We were first to market for them”, she explains.
BrewDog steps up around neurodiversity
Now, BrewDog employees – or crew – who have been on the waiting list for at least six months, through Onebright BrewDog will pay for them to have that diagnosis done privately; before they are then put back into the NHS system to get the help they need.
“We’re literally taking two years off somebody’s wait time to actually get that diagnosis”, notes Bates.
As it stands, BrewDog is trialing this diagnosis support in the UK “to see how we go”.
Although the UK is where most (70%) of its 2,700 employees are based, BrewDog also has locations in the US, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe. If the UK trial is successful, “then we look to roll it out across the globe”.
“We were so excited to launch this, [not just] because it is something that nobody else is doing, but [because] it is something that we’ve identified as being a huge problem”, adds Bates.
While the diagnosis piece makes BrewDog’s neurodiversity approach stand out, its support doesn’t stop there. Once employees have the diagnosis, Bates and her team sit down with workers to find out what additional support they need in the workplace.
The neurodiverse individuals on the DEI forum also told the HR team that they often have difficulty following the written word – and they requested that when HR writes policies “could you put flowcharts in there to visualize it”.
Bates notes this was something her team had just never thought about before, but HR has done a “complete end-to-end review of our careers website and job adverts” to see what could be changed or altered to create a level playing field.
“We’re going to create an onboarding flow document, so that when you’re sent an offer, you actually get given a flow of what is now going to happen”. This means that for those who struggle with the written word, can easily visualize the process and see what the next steps”.
Doing better to support neurodiverse workers is particularly more personal for BrewDog. In January this year, James Watt, CEO and co-founder of BrewDog, shared he has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and ADHD.
Writing on LinkedIn, Watt shared that “I had always thought I was just a bit of an odd fish, very introverted, very happy in my own company and far more capable analytically than socially”, but after a comment by a journalist, he decided to see a specialist and get assessed.
“I am confident that working with fantastic specialists I can work within the confines of ASD and ADHD to continue to improve how I approach the leadership of BrewDog as well as how I approach life overall”, he concluded.
Being crew-led on HR decisions
For Bates, this neurodiversity move is the latest example of how BrewDog’s approach to its people is unique and edgy – they have pawternity leave for employees with new puppies – as well as being very employee (or crew)-led.
“We invest so much in our people, but we invest in the right things – we don’t just invest in what the People team think is the right thing to do. We ask the crew, we get the feedback and we just make sure we’re doing what’s important to the crew”, notes Bates.
Getting buy-in from employees (through the DEI forum, but also surveys) has really come to the fore since BrewDog was rocked by allegations that it has a toxic workplace.
In an open letter published in June 2021, over 100 former employees alleged that BrewDog was centered around a “cult of personality” for Watt and his co-founder Martin Dickie, as well as had a “growth at all costs” mentality.
“Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog”, stated the open letter.
An open letter, to BrewDog. pic.twitter.com/xEd3B83qot
— Punks With Purpose (@PunksWPurpose) June 9, 2021
Bates and the wider leadership team got to work quickly. Watt “was very quick to put his hands up and say that we fell short during a period of rapid growth, and we apologize”, she shares. Plus the brewer quickly launched an independent culture review (in partnership with a consultancy called Wiser).
The review surveyed the brewer’s current crew, but also those who had left the business – despite finding a perception gap between former and current staff, the review spurred on Bates and her team to make a lot of improvements.
Examples include an employee listening line, employee representative groups, new learning and development programs, as well as wellbeing initiatives.
In addition, BrewDog implemented a salary review – this led to a company-wide pay rise; BrewDog is a living wage employer – and invested in hiring to reduce the workload for crew (the open letter highlighted that overworking was a huge issue, and was, in some cases, a safety concern).
Further to this, in 2022, Watt gave away 5% of his holding, or £100 million of shares (3.7 million shares in total) and put them in an employee benefit trust – this ‘HopStock’ initiative means that salaried crew have “that sense of ownership within their bar because they share in the profits as well”. “Everybody wants the business to do well, and that just creates a unique culture”, notes Bates.
She is very proud of the progress that’s been made. She notes: “You probably wouldn’t find any other Brewer of a relative size that has invested more than we have in terms of training, wellbeing and overall [HR] initiatives”.
Wellbeing, menopause and the future of HR
Wellbeing is a big topic for Bates and BrewDog. Of course, the brewer’s new neurodiversity support is part of this, but the company also invests in Mental Health First Aid training through New Leaf.
Out of 2,000 workers, 176 are Mental Health First Aiders – and BrewDog is on a mission to reach 10% of its workforce by the end of the year.
But despite this continued mental health focus, and the ongoing UK trial of neurodiversity diagnosis support, Bates and her team, with the help of the DEI forum, already have their eyes set on their next project: menopause.
BrewDog wants to achieve its menopause accreditation with Henpicked this year – as well as break the taboo of talking about women’s health in the workplace.
Bates shares: “It is such an important one [especially] with the older workforce coming back into the workplace. We really need to make sure that we are friendly around it.
“It is so important to have this in place to to be able to make sure that we’re protecting people, and [also] educating everybody within the business. That awareness is so key”.
Like the neurodiversity policies, menopause accreditation will start with a UK trial, and then BrewDog will explore similar initiatives elsewhere in the world.
Ultimately, BrewDog is on a mission to move on from its troubled past. It wants to build an inclusive culture where “everyone can be themselves”, no matter who they are, or what part of the business they work in.
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