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Barclays scraps ‘Big Brother’ tracking software after backlash from staff and campaigners

Ben Chapman
Reuters

Barclays has scrapped a “Big Brother style” system that monitored employees’ computers, tracking their working habits and how long they spent on breaks.

Following a backlash from privacy campaigners, the bank said it had axed a pilot of the tracking system which claims to offer “unprecedented transparency“ for companies.

“It also determines when an employee goes offline for periods of time,” according to the software’s developer, Sapience.

Barclays said it had used the tool at its Canary Wharf headquarters to increase employees’ wellbeing and efficiency, but the bank faced heavy criticism.

The Trades Union Congress tweeted: “Monitoring desktops, timing loo breaks and warning staff about ‘unaccounted activity’ when they go for a drink of water.

“This isn’t ‘work yoga’, it’s dystopian Big Brother tactics that show a total disregard for hardworking staff.”

Tracking software is increasingly being used in UK workplaces but remains controversial. Barclays has been using Sapience software for several months but managers could, until recently, only see anonymised data which showed the collective performance of their whole team.

The bank implemented a new pilot scheme last week which allowed managers to see individual data on how long each staff member was away from their desk and sent warnings to those deemed to be slacking.

A whistleblower revealed details of the new system to the City AM newspaper, claiming 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.

Campaign group Privacy International said: “Data protection rules are very clear, strict and do not allow employers to carry out such monitoring unless they are able to prove that this is strictly necessary and proportionate and it does not severely impact employees’ rights.

“People are entitled to some fundamental rights even if they are in work,” it said. “International banks are no exception.”

Mary Walker, employment and HR expert and partner at law firm Gordons, said employees had a “legitimate interest” in making sure staff work efficiently.

“Where this is different is that management is in real time – at your desk and on your screen, which may well be new and uncomfortable for employees who have worked with independence in the past.

“It is not a replacement for good people management and must not be unreasonable or excessive.”

A Barclays spokesperson 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.”

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