Barclays abandons ‘creepy’ people analytics project

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Barclays has scrapped the use of an employee monitoring platform following a backlash from staff and criticism from privacy professionals and employment lawyers.

Sapience, the “most advanced and automated” people analytics solution according to the US tech company, had been used in a pilot at Barclays’ investment arm in Canary Wharf, London.

The pursuit of transparency in an organisation can also undermine trust and it’s important that employees feel like they can be left to get on with their jobs without constant monitoring” – Philip Richardson, Stephensons Solicitors

The software monitors employees’ activity on their computers and provides feedback on how individuals could improve their productivity.

The company’s website reads: “Sapience gives you the power to capture insights in a mindful way, providing enlightened analytics that drive productivity improvement and engagement. Managers get work trend data at a macro level, so they can guide their teams more efficiently. Employees can track performance and work habits, significantly improving work-life balance.”

If a Barclays employee is considered not to be “in the zone”, Sapience warns them in a daily update, which tells them if it is recording too many breaks or too much “unaccounted activity”.

A whistleblower told City A.M. that “the stress this is causing is beyond belief” and that it “shows an utter disregard for employee wellbeing”.

“Employees are worried to step away from their desks, have full lunch breaks, take bathroom breaks or even get up for water as we are not aware of the repercussions this might have on our statistics,” they added.

Philip Richardson, head of employment law at Stephensons Solicitors, said: “An open and transparent work culture should always be encouraged, however, the use of this technology to track the whereabouts of staff members does seem excessive. The pursuit of transparency in an organisation can also undermine trust and it’s important that employees feel like they can be left to get on with their jobs without constant monitoring.

“It’s not uncommon for employees to lodge formal complaints against their employers for excessive and overbearing micromanagement and it will be interesting to see whether the use of this type of technology could bring rise to legal claims in the future.”

Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaigner Big Brother Watch, said: “Managers would never get away with breathing down employee’s necks, personally monitoring their screens or logging toilet and water breaks.”

She described the software as “creepy” and called on the bank to urgently review its use.

A spokesperson for Barclays said it had introduced the software and that it would listen carefully to feedback from the pilot. They told City A.M: “This type of technology is widely used across the industry to help identify what is working well and opportunities to improve processes. Colleague wellbeing is of paramount importance and colleagues are free to take breaks whenever they choose.”

Personnel Today approached Sapience for comment but had not heard back at the time of publication.

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