No business leader relishes having their organisation’s dirty laundry washed in public. Even more so if you’ve spent much of the past few years trying to position your business as a force for good with sustainability at its core, as BrewDog has. Those who claim the highest morals have the furthest to fall. 

Hence after the brand was slammed as a “toxic” workplace by a collective of former and current employees called Punks With Purpose earlier this year, one could have been forgiven for thinking the BrewDog brand might have been tarnished for good.

Which would be far from ideal, given BrewDog is hoping to float on the stock market at some point (although whether flotation is actually the best long-term plan for BrewDog is up for debate). In any case it needs to get its HR affairs in order first.

It is beginning to look like BrewDog could be heading in the right direction. Crucially, it this week outlined tangible measures including a new workplace code, a rise in salaries (of 3%, as reported in The Times), and an independently-run ethics hotline. It has also hired 600 extra staff and is investing in its HR functions, mental health support, and looking at career progression opportunities in the company.

The pandemic has changed nearly every facet of our daily lives. When it comes to the workplace, it has forced us to examine the employee/employer relationship under a different light. And, if the record number of people leaving their jobs is anything to go by, the message is that workers are no longer happy to be treated like commodities by their employers – and now have the confidence to vote with their feet.

The case of BrewDog also shows the measures needed to actually become a progressive employer may be more wide-reaching – and in some cases uncomfortable – than brands may initially have thought. Staff will need to be consulted and listened to, rather than simply placated. Extraordinary claims of virtue will require extraordinary evidence.  

Still, if BrewDog gets this right, it could offer other companies a benchmark example of how to address and recover from HR (and PR) disasters with genuine accountability and scrutiny. Punks With Purpose, after all, has been carefully monitoring BrewDog’s announcements since its initial letter was published, and has been fair, giving feedback and credit to the brewer where it has been due. No doubt it will have much to pour over in these latest announcements. 

Just like shoppers are holding brands to account on sustainability, employees are doing the same with their employers when it comes to treatment in the workplace, equal opportunities, mental health and work-life balance. 

Make no mistake: this is a good thing. There will inevitably be some who, predictably, want to write the younger generation off as work-shy snowflakes (yawn). In reality, the shift in mindset offers a tremendous opportunity for businesses to become more effective, more sustainable and, crucially, more attractive places to work. 

Yes, it’s a challenge. Businesses will actually have to walk the walk. But arguably, if a business can’t run without underpaying staff, forcing them to work insane hours without the opportunity for progression, or creating an unpleasant environment, then it wasn’t sustainable to begin with.