Barclays using ‘dystopian Big Brother’ tactics to spy on staff, says TUC

Barclays has been accused of “dystopian Big Brother” employment practices after it admitted running a staff monitoring scheme that uses tracking software to log how long employees spent at their desks and send warnings if they took extended breaks.

The lender has been running a pilot programme at its London headquarters that measures staff productivity within its investment bank, by allowing managers to track when staff are at their desks or in certain computer applications. Time away from their desks for meetings and bathroom breaks could in some cases be counted against staff members’ daily report cards.

The software, created by US firm Sapience Analytics, offers tips to individuals who started to fall behind on targets, suggesting they mute their phone, disable email and chat pop-ups and avoid taking breaks that last more than 20 minutes.

CityAM, which first reported the trial, quoted one anonymous staff member as saying: “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.”

The Sapience website says its software “uses algorithms to analyse data and reveal work patterns. These insights are then shared with the team, department, or organisation.” It claims companies can use the figures to set goals, adjust negotiate contracts, cut spending, and “engage low performers”.

It is understood that Barclays was using the software for a number of months on an anonymised basis, but started piloting the collection of individual data in recent weeks.

The trade union umbrella body the TUC described the use of the system as “dystopian Big Brother tactics that show a total disregard for hardworking staff”.

Following a staff backlash, the bank said it would only gather anonymous, aggregated data about the employees it tracks through the software, rather than on an individual basis.

A Barclays spokeswoman said: “We always intended to listen to colleague feedback as part of this limited pilot which was intended to tackle issues such as individual over-working as well as raise general productivity. In response to that colleague feedback, we have taken steps to ensure that no individual data is visible to managers.”

The lender came under pressure over similar privacy concerns in 2017 over its use of OccupEye sensors that tracked the movements of staff members through blackboxes installed under their desks.

The Guardian has contacted Sapience Analytics for comment.

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