How to Retain Your Employees

Finding and keeping employees helps a brewery stay on track when it comes to all aspects of the process, be it in brewing, packaging, sales, marketing, distribution, administration or customer service.

As the amount of breweries grow seemingly by the minute in the U.S., so do the employment efforts. For many more established breweries that can mean a loss of employees that are looking to leave for possible greener pastures. Many breweries have stepped up by creating a culture of family while boosting benefits and morale.

“It takes continued effort to build upon [our] programs to strengthen retention,” said Maui Brewing’s Melanie Marrero. “One of the best parts of success and growth is the ability to provide not just higher pay but increased benefits and perks that are both financially and personally rewarding.”

As New Belgium has grown, a big challenge, said HR Director John Gamlin, has been making sure that people stay connected.

“We successfully maintain a strong sense of community, and that translates directly to retention,” he said.

For Jill Scanlon, the HR Director at Odell Brewing, it’s been a newer experience. She joined the brewery in June 2016 after years of HR work in other industries. It was quite the change and something that she’s enjoyed in the craft beer field and now loves to be a part of a community of co-workers where she can explain the benefits to newer employees.

“We definitely have a good reputation in the community,” she said of the Fort Collins, Colorado-based brewery. “A lot of folks that apply for positions sort of have this expectation or they know people that already work here. It’s exciting to bring a new hire and have them feel and experience what they have heard about.”

Odell, along with New Belgium both are employee-owned companies, which is different than the standard business that has a typical ownership/management group with employees. But most breweries seem to operate with a family culture anyway, which is why Scanlon and others are drawn to wanting to stay in the atmosphere.

For example, at Odell new hires are paired with a “Brew Brother” or “Brew Sister”. It’s a buddy system where more tenured coworkers work with a new hire.

“They really help them acclimate to the culture piece of the brewery,” Scanlon said. “We line up folks that are from a different team. Production might be connected to someone in sales. Or accounting. So they get a different perspective and get connected to other parts of the organization of the brewery than they otherwise would be connected with.

“I think that has been helpful because we outline for the more tenured person what we want them to go over and the amount of time to spend with new co-workers. We let them have a beer on the first day after work, meet people and have them connect for lunch. That shows the new co-worker that we are a family culture. We want to hang out, get to know them as individuals outside of work as well.”

Marrero noted that increasing staff morale has been a key and they’ve focused on having a strong safety program along with onsite cookouts, holiday parties, team building events and continued employee development, including paid travel as some perks.

“As the industry has grown, attracting and keeping employees has become difficult for breweries,” she said. “At Maui Brewing we continually strive to increase benefits to enhance employees’ compensation as well as grow team building through extra-curricular activities.”

Matt Cutter, the founder of Upslope Brewing noted that his employees work hard and have a lot of fun at work.

“We’re a craft brewer, shouldn’t it be fun?” he said. “Our 53 employees often talk about our company as being a second family. Our culture today was born from the core of the three who started it and has snowballed into this group of people who attract other good people to the company. It’s become a force that propels our culture to this day.”

Even before becoming an ESOP in 2015, Odell already had that ownership culture, which was reinforced from the Odell family down, noted Scanlon.

“Part of that culture existed already was here and it has continued, which I feel is very unique and helps with retention, and recruitment and engagement is our committee structure,” she said, adding that the brewery has created other ways to keep people in tune and communicated within all departments. One such way is committees, including one on wellness, a charity group and others that help deal with small parts of the brewery as a whole. The committees are fairly flexible with each person choosing one committee for a two-year commitment.

“It all was so co-workers could be involved and to provide input and interact with co-workers that aren’t in their regular department,” Scanlon said. “So I think that also really powerful as a way to make people feel that you are a co-owner of the decisions that the brewery makes. We have this other avenue to receive communication and give communication. I think that really is a huge piece of our culture.”

New Belgium, which is also an ESOP, has an annual retreat where everyone’s voice is heard and the entire staff talks big picture, strategy, state of the industry and more said Gamlin.

“We also induct our new owners in a ceremony where they stand in front of their peers and give a speech about what employee ownership means to them. We hold a monthly all-staff meeting live streamed to both breweries and all our field co-workers who can engage with questions and comments in real time.”

Gamlin said they also make a point of having fun together. A shift beer to celebrate the end of the work day is a daily tradition. Co-workers are given a New Belgium bike on their first anniversary with the company as well.  And they have an annual trip to Belgium for those who have been with New Belgium for five years. Upslope, located just down the road in Boulder, has echoed that as well.

“It’s a great opportunity to rediscover our roots and bond,” Gamlin said. “And then the little things – we have an on-site cyclo-cross track, foosball and ping pong for break times, and a fleet of bikes for anyone who wants to roll around on their lunch break. Group rides develop and people mingle with coworkers outside their immediate areas. These all build community.”

But the family and ownership culture still can’t always compete with money. A few ways in which Maui increases compensation through those types of benefits are by having a brewery bonus program based on measurable areas, with tenure being heavily weighted.

There is also personal time paid off for all brewery full-time positions at the start of employment along with six paid holidays and a 401k which includes company dollar matching for the first four percent of contribution and a number of payroll deductions to be taken out pre-tax to help minimize tax liability.

Employees working 20-plus hours are eligible for company health care insurance plan for medical, dental, prescription, and vision coverage. Medical coverage includes chiropractic and acupuncture services, and life insurance coverage.

Other perks include a gift bag for new employees, free shift beers, phone plans for employees that need them for work use, employee discounts and a monthly allowance for take-home beers and logo wear.

“More than ever, people want their time at work to matter and to feel that their employer has their back,” Cutter said about Upslope. “Good company culture makes them look forward to coming to work every day. It can’t be forced, and it emanates from the folks at the top. People like to be empowered to do their job, don’t want to be micro-managed, and like to be aware of how their day-to-day efforts impact the overall goals of the company.”

He added that flexible schedules allow better work and life balance and further adds to loyal employees.

“Even as a very small brewer, we had comprehensive health benefits and a matching 401k,” he said. “To me, these only represent the basics. We want to encourage our folks to be a part of the tap room environment, so everyone gets free pints. We want everyone to reduce their [ecological] impact, so everyone gets a free bus pass. We want our folks to enjoy the outdoors, so everyone gets a heavily discounted ski pass. We want everyone to have the opportunity for homeownership in expensive Boulder County, so we have a First Home Buyer Assistance Program.”

The switch for Scanlon has been ‘amazing’ since moving from her previous employment outside of craft beer into the Odell family.

“I say this all the time and it sounds silly, but I have never worked for an organization like this and I have been in HR for a long time, so I can understand that the connection has to do with the foundation that the family has set for the organization,” she said. “The strong values the Odells have brought and the rest of the leadership team have aligned to that and absolutely model that. It starts there and I can see how it funnels through the organization and it’s become our way.”

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