In order to overcome a significant stiffening artefact associated with current finite element (FE) models for the mechanics of embryonic epithelia, two new FE formulations were developed. Cell-cell interfacial tensions gamma are represented by constant-force rod elements as in previous models. However, the viscosity of the cytoplasm with its embedded organelles and filament networks is modeled using viscous triangular elements, it is modeled using either radial and circumferential dashpots or an orthogonal dashpot system rather than the viscous triangular elements typical of previous two-dimensional FE models. The models are tested against tissue (epithelium) stretching because it gives rise to significant changes in cell shape and against cell sorting because it involves high rates of cell rearrangement. The orthogonal dashpot system is found to capture cell size and shape effects well, give the model cells characteristics that are consistent with those of real cells, provide high computational efficiency and hold promise for future three-dimensional analyses.