An HR Murder Mystery? Inside the making of Murder in HR

Written by Ian Faison, CEO at Caspian Studios

Maybe you’ve seen the ads. Or perhaps you’ve already subscribed to it in your podcast feed.

But if you don’t know what I’m referring to, then let me be the first to say:

I am incredibly excited to announce the upcoming launch of the new podcast, Murder in HR, presented by Gympass! 

Murder in HR is a murder mystery podcast starring Kate Mara as Jemma, the newest Employee Experience Manager at tech start-up Peace of Ship. It’s her first day, and she’s being onboarded by her new Chief People Officer Nicholas, played by Brett Gelman. But when Larry, the company’s travel manager, is electrocuted during the company All-Hands, Jemma uncovers a terrible secret: it was murder! With Nicholas’s help, Jemma must use her HR skills to investigate her toxic colleagues – without becoming the next victim.

This show is a ton of fun, but we know what you’re thinking: Why did the best HR benefits provider in the game team up with a B2B content studio to create a murder mystery podcast? And why the heck is an Employee Experience Manager solving a crime? And why is there a murder in HR? 

As Jemma would say, hold on to your Dunkaroos! We’ll answer most of your questions. Well, the ones that won’t spoil the show.

My HR Origins

Long before I was the CEO of a podcast production company, I was an officer in the United States Army. Specifically, I was in the Army’s version of HR.  

On my first day of one-year deployment to Afghanistan, I was in a role that was waaaay over my head. I was running HR for a brigade of 5,000 soldiers. A stern-faced Army major noticed I was having trouble adjusting. He sat me down and gave me one of the most important leadership lessons of my life:

“Lieutenant Faison, there are two types of HR problems: rubber balls and glass balls,” he told me. “You never want to drop the ball, but you are going to be juggling a lot of them. And sometimes they drop. If you drop a rubber ball, it will bounce, and you can pick it back up. But glass balls break. You can never fix them.”

I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken. The job of HR is an extremely complex, important, and delicate one. You are constantly juggling hundreds of glass and rubber balls. 

I spent five years as an HR leader in the Army, and I know firsthand the high-stress situations that HR leaders face.

I also know how unique HR is as well. And ever since my time working in HR, I’ve felt that an HR department would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery. It could explore the complex world of being a Chief People Officer by raising the stakes to the most difficult, the most impossible, and the most toxic situations. And, maybe it could provide a few laughs, too.

Last year, the time finally felt right. Our team at Caspian Studios began working on the story.

But we still needed to find the perfect partner.

Me doing Army stuff.

A Dynamic Duo

The greatest detectives work as part of a team. Sherlock Holmes has Watson. Frank Hardy has Joe Hardy. Murder in HR’s Jemma has Nicholas.

And Caspian Studios has Gympass.

While we were developing Murder in HR, we knew we needed a partner that could understand the central mystery of the show – it wasn’t a bolt of electricity that killed Larry, but rather a company’s toxic culture. By using her HR skills and introducing wellness practices to Peace of Ship, Jemma is able to solve the crime…and a few of the problems that have been plaguing her new employer.

And this is why Gympass was the perfect partner for us. One of our goals with Murder in HR was to dramatize how multi-faceted toxicity is. And after working with the Gympass team, we were able to figure out how to incorporate wellness into the story – and how many forms it can take. Wellness can mean leading your team through a meditation exercise on the Calm app (part of Gympass!), reminding an employee with a physically-demanding job to stretch, or simply telling someone to quit double-booking their meetings. With that in mind, we were also able to integrate Gympass throughout the story in creative ways.

And there’s another reason we were able to put so much about Gympass into the story – we’re a customer! The benefits packages Gympass offers give your employees the means to introduce wellness into their lives in the way that best benefits them. The company’s wellness offerings have been a great reminder to me personally that the most important thing for myself and for all Caspian team members is to make sure we are taking the time to ensure that we can be our best selves – and I’m not just talking about at the office. 

Our Detectives

One of the most fulfilling parts of making this show was getting to work with Kate Mara and Brett Gelman. Everyone at Gympass and Caspian Studios are huge fans of them, and we were thrilled to have them join the cast. 

After we recorded with Kate and Brett in Los Angeles, they shared with us why they chose to take on these roles. 

“Jemma is this smart, weird, quirky person who is given this seemingly impossible task to solve a murder in three days – and she is eternally optimistic about it,” said Kate Mara, who is starring in the podcast and an executive producer. “Nothing seems to rattle her. A toxic workplace, assassins, snakes, or robots. And she still wants to do her job and help everyone around her. The idea of playing a detective who is so positive and dedicated is exciting. I think the audience will love the comedy and satire in the story.”

Brett Gelman is starring in the series and an executive producer. 

“I wanted to play Nicholas because I think it's an amazing opportunity to play a character who is supposedly in the power position but is actually not,” said Gelman. “There's something really beautifully sensitive about him. He really is in the job to help people and that a lot of the humor from the character comes from an anxiety of not being able to do that in the right way and from the mistakes that he's made as well."

Both actors also responded to the show’s take on wellness – and how wellness can mean something different for everyone. Jemma and Nicholas both incorporate wellness into their HR practices, and by diagnosing the rotting toxicity at the center of Peace of Ship, they are able to solve the crime. That also means helping each of their potential suspects with their own issues. “Wellness, I think, does need to be seen and practiced in a very organic way,” said Brett. “You can’t just slam down a bunch of rules and think that if you follow these things to the letter, that you’re gonna be okay. That’s not how life operates…what works for us in one moment is not going to necessarily in the next moment.”

The Characters 

Our goal with the characters was to pull some of the common startup tropes – the busy CEO, the taskmaster CTO, the overworked CPO, the crazy sales team – and dramatize the negative effects of toxicity through these archetypes. But we didn’t just do that by giving them toxic behaviors. We felt that Peace of Ship, our toxic business, needed a metaphor – something symbolic that could demonstrate the effects of toxicity on a business.

Here’s your spoiler alert, by the way. Skip to the next header if you don’t want to know…

You’ve been warned…


Seriously, don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Peace of Ship is actually a front for a global assassin network. The company’s elite sales team, Starboard, is composed of globe-trotting assassins who take out – in the words of the company’s CEO Gregory –  the “villainous trash of the seas.” And each member of Starboard is a suspect in the show’s titular murder.

Every company has some secrets and infighting. But we felt that making our suspects assassins was a great metaphor for toxicity. After all, any argument can end in another murder!

Even our lead character Jemma has her own struggles. She’s ten years into a career she has mostly spent job-hopping. In fact, she’s quit every job she’s ever had. But after Larry’s murder, she can’t quit Peace of Ship. Instead, she’s “stuck” – literally. If she doesn’t solve the murder, she could get killed herself! It’s a metaphor for feeling “stuck” in your career, something incredibly common for people ten years into their career.

Assassins or not – our characters don’t want to be toxic. They want to be great at their jobs. But they just need a little help.

Podcast + Sushi

The Creative Process

Writing a story with this amount of complexity is a true collaboration. On the Caspian side, I was thrilled to write the script with Taylor Sardoni and Jaz Zepatos, who helped build the world, bring the characters to life, and craft some side-splitting jokes.

The team at Gympass reviewed the script and consulted with us on every draft, offering amazing feedback on the plotting and characters. Their progressive thinking on wellness helped ensure that the story’s theme of the power of wellness – and the horrifying effects of toxicity – landed in a way that was both entertaining and resonant.

As far as recording? That’s an incredibly complex process with more moving pieces than I can count! We recorded Kate and Brett at a studio in Los Angeles, where Rex New directed the actors in one jam-packed and absolutely hilarious day. The rest of our cast members recorded remotely, from locations as varied as Toronto, Dallas, and even New Zealand! Post production was conducted entirely remotely as well, with various members of the Caspian team managing sound mixing, design, music, and so much more. It’s an incredible process that I think demonstrates the power of remote work.

A Love Letter to HR

This is a show for everyone.

Anyone who has worked anywhere has dealt with toxic employees. Maybe even ones where you thought your toxic coworkers actually were assassins.

But most of all, this is for the incredible professionals that make up the HR profession.

I’ve been a CHRO myself, and I know firsthand the challenges that every HR leader faces. I loved the profession, and I love the people I met when working in the Army.

I also know the challenges the HR function has faced over these last few years of upheaval and disruption. These teams helped businesses navigate the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, steering the shift to remote work in a matter of days. They guided their employees through the mental health challenges of stay-at-home orders, quarantines, and unimaginable heartbreaks.

No business could have made it without their HR professionals leading the way. It’s about time HR professionals like Jemma and Nicholas got the spotlight. Because even if they’re fictional, I think they are going to find Jemma and Nicholas’s challenges very relatable – even if you (thankfully!) have never had to solve a murder at work.

So thanks, HR. This one’s for you. 

PS – You’re going to love the Easter eggs we hid throughout just for you!!

About Ian Faison

Ian Faison is the CEO and founder of Caspian Studios, the world's first Podcast-as-a-Service solution that helps B2B marketing teams create world-class podcasts and video series. Ian has executive produced over 80 business podcasts with thousands of episodes and millions of listeners. He hosts multiple podcast series including Pipeline Visionaries, Often Imitated, CIO Classified, Rise of RevOps and Remarkable B2B Content Ideas. Ian is the creator of the fiction series, Murder in Marketing. Ian is a West Point graduate, former Army Captain, Afghanistan Veteran, and advocate for U.S. military veteran entrepreneurship. On his days off, you can find him exploring nature in Northern California with his wife Bekki and son Benjamin.