IMPACT20: The National Conversation Report: An interview with Barbara Harvey


In September, the IEP convened nine roundtables across the regions and nations for IMPACT20, bringing together CEOs from business and charities, local council leaders, HMG policy officials and young people grappling with the long term impact of COVID-19. Examining national challenges at a local level, together we created an inclusive picture of UK society, drawing upon the unique strengths and possibilities of our communities.

This winter we will publish IMPACT20: The National Conversation Report – it will include a  playback of the challenges and opportunities we heard across the UK and identify five key areas of opportunity where this model of cross-sectoral partnerships can play a critical role.

As part of the report, we interviewed Barbara Harvey, Managing Director of Accenture Research, who lays bare the impact the pandemic is having on the nation’s mental health – and what employers can do to help.

On defining mental health

I love the World Health Organization’s definition of mental health. It describes it as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

On the impact of COVID-19

The challenges are almost limitless. Between 40% to 60% of the workforce has had a decline in mental health. There are so many pressures on people right now, which includes working from home. Not everyone has an office space in their house with a window. Many people are having to work on the ends of their beds, on the kitchen table with flatmates or wrestling with the kids over who gets access to broadband.

On stepping up

I'm a volunteer with the Shout Crisis Text Line. At the peak of the crisis in April, the number of texters they were managing went from around 750 to 900 per day. The way they met that demand, using a combination of qualified experts and volunteers, has been phenomenal.

On how employers can help

You need to empower people: when so much has been taken away, make sure you give people a say in their work lives and how they come back to the office. You must also educate your employees so they understand how to look after their mental health, spot someone whose mental health is declining, and build techniques to help them manage.

On the power of technology

The power of technology to fill the treatment gap in mental health is really exciting. It offers the potential to scale the provision we have in a relatively affordable way. But there are challenges, too. Human beings aren’t designed to use technology all the time. We shouldn’t be staring at a screen all day.

On building an inclusive culture

Companies are going to have to adapt and be more inclusive, or they simply won’t attract the talent they need. If you’re a smart black woman, you’re not going to join an organisation unless you can see that you can get on there. Employers need to understand how to reach out and bring diverse people in – no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or background – and create an inclusive environment that makes employees think: “This is cool. I belong here. And I don't feel scared to voice my opinion.”

On mental health campaigns

Financial and mental wellbeing go hand in hand, even more so in times like these. Lloyds Bank, in partnership with Mental Health UK, had an impressive campaign that looked at people’s spending patterns and the impact of debt on mental health, with some useful tips, and tools to help people feel more in control.

On supporting Accenture employees

In March, we rolled out a virtual training course developed with Thrive Global and Stanford Medicine called Thriving Mind, that introduces our people to the science behind their brain’s response to stress and tools to help them recharge. Every employee has access to a support service (online and by phone) and we have a range of different employee networks where people can access tailored support, resources and practical help. Our carers’ network, for example, has been particularly active over the past six months. For those that are really struggling, we’ve put in place a confidential peer-to-peer support group, managed by an external psychotherapist. 

On the opportunity

This is an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent ourselves – and our country. This is a chance to level the playing field, build a more inclusive culture and make sure digital is for everyone. 

To create a more inclusive society, I’d…

… encourage leaders to be honest about their own mental health challenges, giving others the confidence to speak up. In more open work environments, you see a 40% drop in mental health conditions.