Year 2020
March 2020

COVID-19: Supporting Employees during Uncertain Times

Stress is common in the work environment. With the uncertain economic times brought up the cumulation of various political and trade tensions and exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak, the level of stress and anxiety in the workplace cannot be ignored.

As business struggle with profit margin and viability, employees worry about pay cut or being laid off. Employees may feel added pressure to perform and prove their value in the organisation.  Likewise, employers may seek to do more with less resources and further stressing their team members.

Employee stress, whether from internal or external factors, can impact businesses greatly.  Employee stress is not just a personal problem of the employees. Employee mental health affects their morale and performance and hence the overall productivity of the organisation. These can incur significant cost and place further financial strain on businesses.

While COVID-19 has posed a great threat to many businesses and the overall economy, it has also created opportunities for business to prepare for greater growth. By supporting employees through this uncertain period, business will be able to build up their capacity to ride through the tough economic times and strengthen their capability to enhance their business performance once we reach the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.

Here are 5 tips to support your team and reduce their anxiety through the uncertain times:

  1. Empathise and communicate
    As your employees are managing their anxiety related to the rough economic times and uncertainty at work, they could also be anxious about COVID-19 just like many people in the community.  The heightened anxiety may be displayed through emotive tendencies such as anger, irritable moods, lack of focus, negativity, avoidance or overcontrolling. Be sensitive to changes in your employees and demonstrate understanding by creating time and space to listen to your employees’ concerns.  You can do this at group meetings or through one-to-one conversations with those who could be uncomfortable to speak up in group setting. Communicate your concern for them and let them know that you are willing to work with them to cope with the challenges.
  1. Create safety and trust through transparency
    Trust is the foundation of any relationships, including your relationship with your employees. One key to building trust is transparent and open ongoing communication. During uncertain times, information is crucial. Keep your employees updated of what’s happening in your organisation – both the good and bad.  Saying everything’s okay when it is not, will destabilise the employees’ trust in the organisation leading to greater uncertainty and anxiety.  Create ample communication opportunities, both formally such as during staff meeting or informally over lunch, to share updates on the organisation and for employees to raise their concerns. Frequent communication and access to information creates trust in the management and hence a sense of safety while fighting the spread of rumours, gossips and miscommunication that can lead to fear and insecurity in the employees. Hence, even if measures that could affect the employees have to be taken, they would not be shocked.
  1. Keep employees involved and motivated
    People just want to help, especially in times of need.  Problem solving, whether formal or informally, help to energise and sustain your employees to feel good about themselves. It creates a sense of control for them during this time of uncertainty, thereby reducing their worry and fear. Recognise their hard work and make sure they know that you appreciate their effort to making a difference for the organisation. By involving your employees meaningfully, you will be surprised by how much more you can get done and hence increasing productivity and performance of your business.
  1. Deal with the present but look forward to the future
    As you engage your employees in tackling the present challenges, adopt a growth mindset. Plan and take actions for the future. Take time to celebrate success, even small ones. Celebrating small successes along the way recognises your employees for their effort and motivates them to continue to put in the effort towards the longer term. This will strengthen your team and increases their willingness to go the extra mile to tide through this difficult period and work together towards the organisation’s long-term goals and objectives. Remembering the organisation’s vision and mission and using any free time and available grants during this period to send employees for training can also boost the overall confidence in themselves and in the organisation. There are many grants and subsidies that businesses can tap on to cope with the economic downturn while investing in growth. Adopting a growth mindset can stimulate positive vibes among your employees and inject hopefulness and confidence within the organisation.
  1. Promote mental wellness
    Implement initiatives to promote mental wellness to fight against any anxiety. Having good mental health will allow your employees to focus their effort and attention positively on coping with the challenges rather negatively on worries and anxieties. Promoting mental wellness can be done through a wide range of activities. Organisations can organise regular fun activities to help employees release stress or an intentional organisation-wide initiative such as a structured employee assistance programme. Employee assistance programme can be tailored to your organisation’s needs to offer support to employees when professional help to deal with their challenges are needed or to build up the overall resilience of your team to ride through challenges by offering preventive educational and skills workshops to equip them with the knowledge and skills even before they need them.

The current uncertain times offer great growth opportunities for organisations to strengthen their teams and build up organisational capabilities for longer term gains. Employees are the greatest assets of any organisation. Caring for and supporting your employees is always a worthwhile investment and especially in challenging times. Investment in our employees’ wellbeing, and not just their performance, will toughen up an organisation and allow it to ride through the storm and emerge stronger. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

About the author

Ms Ng Ai Ling obtained her Masters in Family & Systemic Psychotherapy from Middlesex University and Bachelor of Social Sciences (Hons) in Social Work from National University of Singapore. She has more than 25 years of experience as a therapist and in leadership positions. Ai Ling specialises in mental health and family therapy. She practices using systemic approaches and intervention and hope to co-create meaningful differences with clients through therapeutic conversations during their life challenging moments. Currently, she practices as a Principal Social Worker and therapist at Viriya Therapy Centre.



Viriya Therapy Centre offers the following specialist services:

  • Individual psychosocial therapy and counselling
  • Marital and family therapy
  • Group work and workshops
  • Supervision and professional development for professional social service practitioners
  • Psychological assessments and interventions
  • Employee Assistance Programmes

For more information on the Employee Assistance Programmes offered by Viriya Therapy Centre or to have a discussion on how we can support your team, please feel free to contact us at 6256 1311 or email