Scottish beer maker becomes first brewery in UK to move to four-day week
• Edinburgh-based Vault City Brewing makes four-day week permanent after eight-month trial
• Staff hail improved work-life balance, mental health benefits and ‘feeling more productive’
• Founders overcome production challenges to create a better and more modern working environment
• Trial proven to be a win-win as turnover increases by 175%
SCOTTISH brewer Vault City Brewing has become the first commercial brewery in the UK to adopt a four-day working week.
The Edinburgh-based brewer – famous for creating modern and innovative sour beers with flavours including Iron Brew, Cloudy Lemonade and Rhubarb and Custard – made the move permanent across its brewery, bar and office sites on January 1 as part of its commitment to a healthy and balanced workplace culture.
The firm’s 13 employees now work from 8am to 5.30pm Monday to Thursday, with the working week reduced from 40 hours a week to 35. The new working schedule was phased in over eight months from April last year.
Staff at all levels of the business working across Vault City’s office, brewery and bar operations are already loving the change – with many hailing the increased flexibility around annual leave, appointments and childcare; improved mental health; and increased energy and productivity levels.
Charlotte Brooke, Vault City’s Brewing’s sales coordinator, said: “The work/life balance it affords me allows me to enjoy my time to the fullest and arrange long-weekends away without needing to take time off. I feel less tired, more mentally and emotionally well rested and generally just better. I don’t think I could go back to a five-day week now.”
The four-day week concept had been in Vault City co-founder Steven Smith Hay’s mind since he left a corporate career which included spells at BT and TSG to start the firm in 2018. Despite expecting significant challenges – particularly implementing it around the unpredictable production schedule of a fully functioning commercial brewery – he knew it was fundamentally important to create the right work-life balance for his team.
He said: “Scaling up something that started small is challenging at the best of times, but committing to a four-day work week when you’ve more than tripled in size, and opened a bar could seem like an impossible stretch. However, we believe work-life balance is a big part of our culture, and something worth striving for.
“A four-day working week is completely unheard of in the brewing world, an industry which has developed a reputation for long hours and hard graft. To be honest, that was part of my motivation – to create a different way of working. It hasn’t come without its challenges, though.
“As the first commercial brewery in the UK to offer this way of working to our team, there was no blueprint to follow. Initially it takes discipline not to fall back into old habits of a five-day working pattern, especially because many of our customers work in hospitality where weekends are often when they’re most active.”
Although the office teams at Vault City adapted quickly to the new work schedule during last year’s phased introduction, the brewing arm of the business threw up more obstacles – particularly as fermentation doesn’t work to a set timetable. However, Steven has maintained its commitment to the move, and the team have been creative in identifying solutions.
Steven said: “Brewing beer can be unpredictable, especially in the world of mixed fermentation. There are certain situations when brewing and packaging releases which can change quickly and require immediate attention. In those moments we’ve had to use overtime pay to make sure we kept things under control. It’s not something you want to become habitual, but it is necessary from time to time, and crucially it’s fair.”
The move to a four-day week has been made more challenging by the speed and scale of Vault City Brewing’s recent growth, with the firm almost tripling in size over the past year, including a raft of new hires, products, and the opening The Wee Vault in Edinburgh’s Haymarket.
Turnover at Vault City Brewing has risen by 175% in the past 12 months, with the brewery’s output increasing to around 250,000 litres of beer each year. Vault City puts the success down to a spike in direct to consumer (DTC) demand during the pandemic, and new contracts with Tesco for ‘sessionable’ product lines including Tropical Sour, and Raspberry Sour which have proved popular with ‘craft curious’ consumers.
Steven, who began brewing beers in his Murrayfield kitchen in 2018, said: “It’s been fun to watch the fanbase grow. Many of these people then followed our brewery and started trying our more adventurous, higher ABV releases. It’s all part of the sour beer revolution – and we’re delighted to be at the vanguard.”
A trial of a four-day week without pay reduction is set to take place in Scotland, with 30 businesses already signing up to a trial in England and Wales set to begin later this year.
The pilot programme was announced in January and was launched by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.
Steven added: “Our advice [to others considering it] would be to try it if you’re able to, but be transparent with your team so they know that you won’t get things perfect from day one. It’s a big transition from a standard way of working, so we’d also recommend a phased approach. It’s daunting, and there will be stumbling blocks throughout but the resulting benefits in staff morale, work-life balance and productivity will be visible.”
To find out more about Vault City Brewing, visit the website.