Barclays scraps tech that warned employees to ‘avoid breaks’

21 Feb 2020

Barclays has scrapped analytics software Sapience after a pilot week resulted in negative feedback from employees and trade unions.

Barclays has scrapped a Big Brother style system that tracked how long employees spent at their desks and sent warnings if they spent too long on breaks.

The bank stopped its use of the spyware following criticism from HR experts and privacy campaigners.

Barclays introduced the technology during a pilot scheme last week, which was first reported by City AM.

‘Unprecedented transparency’

Whistleblowers told the newspaper that the system provides staff with daily updates if they are not deemed active enough and told them to “avoid breaks”.

The firm said the pilot had been intended to improve productivity as well as “tackle overworking”.

The software, called Sapience, monitors workers’ productivity and claims to create “unprecedented transparency” within companies. On Sapience’s website, the company says that it enables managers to get work trend data “at a macro level, so they can guide their teams more efficiently”.

The software company claims that it can increase productivity by 15pc to 20pc within the first six months of deployment and can reduce outsourcing costs by 20pc.


An anonymous Barclays employee told CityAM: “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.”

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 overworking 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 bank’s use of the system received scorn from workers’ groups and privacy campaigners. The UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) described the use of the system as “dystopian Big Brother tactics that show a total disregard for hardworking staff”.

In 2017, privacy concerns were raised in a separate incident involving Barclays, when the lender implemented OccupEye sensors that tracked the movements of staff members through black boxes installed under their desks.

At the time, UK and Irish union Unite was told that the boxes did not monitor individuals or their performance, but Unite officer Dominic Hook said that the union would “keep a close eye on the situation to make sure that the sensors are never used to spy on staff or as a means to measure productivity”.

– PA Media with additional reporting from Kelly Earley