Barclays installs spyware on employees’ computers

Barclays has come under scrutiny after it installed ‘Big Brother-style’ monitoring software in its London headquarters

The bank’s software, piloted last week, sends employees daily updates if they have not been deemed active enough. It also informs them to ‘avoid breaks’ as it monitors their productivity in real time, recording activities such as toilet visits as unaccounted time.

According to City A.M a spokesperson for Barclays confirmed the introduction of the monitoring software.

They said: “This type of technology is widely used across the industry to help identify what is working well and opportunities to improve processes.

“Colleague wellbeing is of paramount importance and colleagues are free to take breaks whenever they choose.”

However, a whistleblower told City A.M that “the stress this is causing is beyond belief” and it “shows an utter disregard for employee wellbeing”.

Speaking to HR magazine, Matt Jenkin, a partner and head of employment law at Moorcrofts, said: “While more and more employers are looking to use technology to assist in monitoring staff performance, organisations introducing this type of software will have to be careful as there can often be a fine line between the needs of a business and an employee’s right to privacy.

“Employers should ensure that employees are fully aware that the monitoring is taking place and the reasons for it.”

Jenkin also warned that systems seen to discourage employees from taking breaks may cause employers to breach their obligations under the Working Time Regulations.

Mary Walker, a partner in the employment and retail teams at Gordons, pointed out that monitoring IT systems and collecting data in the workplace is not new. However, she told HR magazine that the Barclays case is different as it monitors in real time – at your desk and on your screen.

She said: “It is not a replacement for good people management and must not be unreasonable or excessive. There are useful and clear guidelines from the Information Commissioner’s Office regarding monitoring, data storage and notification requirements,”

Silkie Carlo, director of anti-state surveillance campaign group Big Brother Watch, accused Barclays of breaching its employees’ privacy.

She said: “Intrusive monitoring denies staff the privacy, respect and dignity they deserve at work. Managers would never get away with breathing down employees’ necks, personally monitoring their screens or logging toilet and water breaks.

“The availability of technology to surveil staff surreptitiously does not make it any more acceptable. The use of this technology is creepy and should be urgently reviewed.”

Further reading

Employer considerations for workplace surveillance

Half of workers think they’re being monitored by bosses

HR mythbusting: Does surveillance improve performance?

Marks and Spencer responds to criticism of secret filming trial

Editor's note: Since the time of press Barclays has scrapped its employee monitoring software in response to feedback from colleagues.