How to Recognize Employee Calmers—And Why You Need Them

/ Christine Andrukonis

I often tells this story about an influential calmer in my life: “I will never forget the scariest flight of my life. As someone who travels frequently, I consider myself at ease on the road or in the air, but while flying from Miami to Newark last year, we experienced increased turbulence. The plane dropped every few minutes, passengers were being propelled from their seats, people were screaming and praying, and the flight attendants had their hands full. However, my attention went directly to one very composed person.

At first, I thought he was part of a large group and was assisting his family members or friends. But then I realized he was actually stepping up to be the beacon of comfort for strangers. Even in the middle of chaos and fear, he remained calm. He was the human version of a security blanket – speaking quietly but with authority, soothing his seat neighbors, and even rubbing one person’s back to assure her that everything would be okay.

Though some people were emotional—crying, shaking, and frightened—others, like me, were uneasy but keeping ourselves together. What this man couldn’t have known is that he gave me something to focus on. And he allowed me to keep my cool through this unexpected ordeal. In fact, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. Watching him calm others was enough to keep me focused and calm. Luckily, we landed safely, and everyone could return home or head off to their next destination.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to thank this man for his selflessness once we deboarded, but the experience taught me a valuable lesson about ‘calmers.’ And how to recognize those people who are able to help others battle the stress around them. These “calmers” can be found in every stressful situation, whether it’s in the middle of an unusually choppy plane flight, or when it’s in the middle of a company-made change, such as a mass restructuring, or change of business direction. What I’ve come to realize is that in the office, calmers play a vital part in improving culture and morale.”

If you have sought a diverse talent pool in your hiring process, you have at least one calmer on your payroll. These individuals rise up without being asked. They have a way of processing and communicating information so that it is digestible and approachable. Most of all, they keep the energy positive and moving forward, rather than getting mired in negativity and fear with some of their peers.

Why Employee Calmers Are Pivotal 

At Notion, we spoke with Los Angeles-based psychologist, Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., to understand better the role calmers play—and how to recognize employees who effortlessly step into this undervalued position of leadership. As she explains, every professional will respond differently when faced with unforeseeable pressure.

While some will instantly go into panic mode, others have unflappable supportive reactions and demeanors that are soothing to others who don’t respond to change as efficiently. “Company calmers can demonstrate how to react appropriately,” she continues. “They can help de-escalate growing distress for people in the organization who are having difficulty managing their own feelings.”

Take, for instance, in early March, when offices around the world had to react quickly to the spread of COVID-19. Many organizations didn’t have remote-work policies or infrastructures, causing confusion, frustration, and at times, a major dip in productivity. While leaders gathered to determine the next steps and how they could offer assistance to their teams, the calmers also played a pivotal part in the process.

Likely, these individuals called concerned employees, connected with anxious colleagues via Slack, or happily shared their voice of reason with anyone who needed to hear it. As the pandemic has continued, they’ve been a steady, unwavering force that staff members know they can rely on whenever they have a concern or need to be grounded. As offices start to re-open through various stages, they will continue to be right there, guiding the way.

In fact, Dr. Thomas advises enlisting your calmers to be part of your company’s overall communication strategy. “It could be beneficial—and even motivational—to have the calmer make a public announcement on behalf of the organization, either remotely or in-person, in which he or she could explain the importance of having logic prevail over high emotions during these intense situations,” she shares. “The calmer can help to put things in perspective and bolster people’s confidence and morale, reminding everyone that they are a team and can get through these challenging situations as that team together if everyone does their part.”

How to Recognize Employee Calmers

While it’s essential to ensure all employees feel celebrated, it’s also essential to take care of your calmers. When thinking of how to recognize employees who go above-and-beyond and play a crucial part in the dynamic of the staff, Dr. Thomas says there are many tactics to take.

One idea is to be more hands-off with employee calmers. Because they sometimes need time to talk someone off a ledge, so to speak, giving them leeway to do this in their own manner will illustrate the confidence you have in their abilities. “With the backing of the company, calmers can nip people’s overreactions faster so that their work performance might be less negatively affected, and even if they are negatively affected, hopefully, this will be for a shorter duration of time,” Dr. Thomas adds.

Though you may not require a Head of Calming position at your company, another way to recognize employee calmers is to make them part of the protocol conversation, according to New York City-based psychiatrist, Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, MD. While speaking with Notion, he recommended that, if your budget permits, you can add and compensate a new responsibility for your office calmer. They can advise leadership on what’s effective, what’s ineffective, and how they can improve their reaction and support of the staff.

While you may already know who the standout calmers are within the immediate group you work with regularly, chances are high that there are other similar professionals throughout the company. Dr. Ivanov says many personality tests can clue you in on the likely candidates if you aren’t sure of who these people are. Every team within your business should have a calmer to help them through crises big and small. Utilize your leaders and managers to step in and learn how to recognize these employees.

And last by not least—don’t forget to say, ‘thank you.’ Gratitude goes a long way with any professional in your organization, but particularly with calmers who give more without ever being asked. It may be an innate part of their personality, but it is always worth recognizing privately and publicly. This could be through a company-wide email, a recognition at a town hall, or even at your next virtual happy hour, where you share a story of how they used their soothing nature to benefit employees and strengthen confidence.

Bottom line: Calmers matter—and they should be recognized for their contributions. They keep the waters smooth, so you have more time to deal with the waves. Make sure they’re equipped with the right support to sail forward.