Employee Monitoring at Barclays

In early 2020, Barclays launched a pilot program to more closely monitor employee activity, giving managers real-time reporting on how productive (or unproductive) employees were throughout the day. This pilot was met with immediate backlash from employees and advocacy groups, comparing it to Big Brother, and it was abandoned very shortly after launch. So what was Barclays missing here, and could this have been done better?

Employee Monitoring at Barclays

In early 2020 Barclays, the multinational investment bank and financial services company, embarked on a bold project. Partnering with a 10-year old people analytics startup, Sapience Analytics, the company launched a pilot program using state-of-the-art employee productivity software to allow teams unprecedented transparency into their working patterns and identify areas for improvement. According to the Sapience website, this software “captures accurate data about the work time, effort, patterns, and process followed” and generates real-time reports on employee behavior, going so far as to let employees know if they are not “in the zone” or are taking too many breaks. Unsurprisingly, this enhanced data collection and monitoring was not well-received, with some employees stating that it was causing significant additional stress and showed “an utter disregard for employee wellbeing” [1]. This current situation at Barclays is further exacerbated by the fact that they had experimented with this type of data collection before, as in 2017 they were criticized for the use of OccupEye sensors which monitored how long employees were spending at their desks.

So what was Barclays missing here, and why did it go so wrong? I would like to offer my quick perspective on why the roll-out of analytics processes like this often do not work, and what Barclay’s could have done differently to make this more successful.

1. Know what you’re solving for

One of the core issues with this program is that it is unclear to me what value Barclays was trying to derive, and what the interventions would be to get there. From the Sapience website, the core value provided seems to be time tracking and identifying when an employee has been “productive” or “non-productive”. While these types of simplified metrics may be effective in some cases, once roles and teams become more complex with varied types of output (especially if they are creative, or require collaboration with different teams, external organizations, etc.) the effectiveness of an individual can no longer be directly tied to number of hours spent sitting at a desk. Additionally, even if this simplified measure of productivity was proven valuable, it is clear that their interventions (e.g. providing employees with reports on their productivity) were not effective in driving employees to change their behaviors, and instead they had the opposite effect. As a result, it may have been more effective for Barclays to consider which employee metrics impact the success of the company as a whole, and devise interventions that bring employees and managers on the same page to drive these metrics forward.

2.  Trust and Ownership

Over the last several years, a number of high-profile data breaches and misuses of customer data have left many people extremely skeptical towards the ways in which data is used. This has been further exacerbated by an overall decline of trust in businesses [2], as disputes around high corporate profits and income inequality have become more acute. As a result, for any organization seeking to collect data on their employees or customers will need the trust of stakeholders that they will do the right thing, or the project may be doomed before it even begins. Barclays has had its fair share of scandals [3], as well as attempts at more robust employee monitoring (also poorly received), so it is not surprising that this project was perceived negatively by employees and privacy groups. One way Barclays could have dealt with this trust issue would be including employees and line managers in the design and roll-out of this program. If employees better understood the goals of the project and were able to offer input, they may have been able to provide suggestions to make it more effective or be less intrusive. In the end, it is important that those who will be impacted by data collection programs such as this understand the problem that is being addressed, have a seat at the table when decisions are made that impact their daily lives, and are fully bought-into the solution so that the organization can move together towards the goal.



[1] https://www.cityam.com/exclusive-barclays-installs-big-brother-style-spyware-on-employees-computers/

[2] https://hbr.org/2017/01/survey-peoples-trust-has-declined-in-business-media-government-and-ngos

[3] hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=43888

[4] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/barclays-abandons-creepy-people-analytics-project/


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Student comments on Employee Monitoring at Barclays

  1. Cool article, Jared!

    It seems like a number of things went very wrong for Barclays. Whether or not I believe in the product (and I don’t think I do, but I’d like to know more), it sounds like this was fundamentally an implementation issue. There is a framework we used in MSO (Managing Service Operations) last semester on how to shape a service culture that I’ve come to find very useful in analyzing situations like the one you’ve written about.

    The framework has 3 components: clarity, signaling and consistency. Clarity refers to transparency of beliefs and goals of an organization. These beliefs must be signaled to everyone within the organization. Actions taken need to be aligned with those clear goals and beliefs. The first two seem to be problem here and the third one remains an open question (though my hypothesis is that it was also part of the problem).

    1) Clarity: there might’ve been a clear goal to the implementation of this employees monitoring initiative, but leadership failed to communicate that effectively to employees. This lack of clarity from above, leaves employees wondering and hypothesizing as to what the goal is.

    2) Signaling: implementing employee monitoring without a clearly stated objective sent the wrong message to employees, which become anxious and feel invaded.

    3) Consistency: even if Barclays had had clear objectives and in the implementation of this initiative those clear goals had been properly signaled to the employees, there would be still be another question to answer: are those goals consistent with Barclays’ culture and broader set of values? If the answer is no, even with clarity and signaling, this probably would’ve failed any way.

  2. This drew my attention right away as I worked at Barclays! I did not participate in any of these programs knowingly but wonder now whether I was under surveillance. Haha! I think you have made some valid points and Paula in her comment has highlighted some insights that could have had a different reaction from the employees. As someone who as has worked in banking, I believe there is an additional metric of defining what the productive way of doing work is. Unlike a sales oriented organised in day to day sales target, the day to day work at a bank could really involve work over a deal that spans over months. Hence enhanced monitoring could mean implementing more face time and a very rigid idea of what would mean productive time or as the article puts it “In the zone” behavior. The solution would work if there were defined targets along with the effective communication.

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