The global COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world in 2019 rearing its head with the first confirmed case in Singapore on 23 January 2020. Almost 18 months has passed and the world has undergone a transformation and is still transforming. While Singapore has gone through lockdowns of Circuit Breaker and series of Heighted Alerts, it is still not out of the woods. Many countries are still grappling with outbreaks and lockdowns with some trying to  continue to rebuild their local economies and return to a more normal way of life. We may not be out of the woods soon or even in the distant future, with the constant mutation of the COVID-19 virus in higher virus load and its resistance against current vaccines. 

How do we as SME businesses cope with this pandemic moving on to endemic ? Getting businesses reorganised, pushing for the costs down to the bone, implementing the ever evolving work arrangements and mandatory workplace safe-distancing; and relentless pivoting of business models, are all “do or die” measures that all bosses have done and still been doing. These efforts are not going to show any meaningful results if you have not considered how COVID-19 has impacts our workplace. Specifically the mental health of our staff, the very talent that will control the levers for all these measures.

In the recent 2021 survey of “The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health in the Workplace” by EmploymentHero, 57% to 71% of employees have felt stressed about Covid-19 in the past six months across Singapore, Malaysia, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Singapore topped the list with 71% followed by UK 62% and Malaysia 61%. The top 3 worries for employees in Singapore are financial health (69%), physical health (63%) and mental health (53%). Interestingly, the employees is much less optimistic than its employers on how they perceived  the supportiveness of workplace to employees’ wellbeing (41% vs 68%) or whether there are tools or processes to measure wellness in the workplace (39% vs 62%). Most bosses have the mistaken impression that their staffs’ wellbeing is properly taken care in the workplace, when in fact, only close to half of its employees agreed so. The top 4 things in descending order that employees yearn for are:

  • A healthy work-life balance
  • COVID-19 related health and wellness benefits
  • Counselling services
  • More frequent check-ins with individual employees

These calling from the employees may not necessary be an additional cost burden to the company and it could just be things that a company can easily implement without much costs.

A healthy work-life balance can be implemented with a better work assignment amongst individuals or matching the work requirement to individual competence. This could be done with a redistribution of workload, a rescheduling of office hours or a simple digitisation of documents to accord work-from-house arrangement for certain individuals. Bosses or direct supervisors could also try to be more involved in daily operations of the team, lending a listening ears and initiating more frequent casual discussion on a regular basis. A simple informal but sincere ‘waterhole chat’ will goes a long way against a formal structured counselling/check-ins which is done as part of workplace policy. It is cheap talk to say you support and provide a COVID friendly workplace until you really lead by example as a leader.

You can continue be a “great” boss that you believe you are or you can start unbelieving it to be a wise boss. Perhaps there is some wisdom in not joining the Jones in the never ending business pivoting but take a step back and focus on the basics – Is your team having the right mental wellbeing to take your strategy through this challenging pandemic. Strategy is nothing without talents, and getting that talents motivated what will get you ahead in this pandemic.