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” . 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 , 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 , 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.