The secret to Laszlo Bock’s Humu startup is emotional labor

Laszlo Bock, former head of human resources at Google
Laszlo Bock, former head of human resources at Google
Image: Getty Images/Neilson Barnard
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If you’ve ever tidied up the office break room, organized a Secret Santa gift exchange, or counseled a distraught colleague, you’ve performed emotional labor at work. And it’s likely your efforts were never thanked or acknowledged. Now a startup co-founded by Laszlo Bock, Google’s former head of human resources, appears to be using technology to make employees feel a little more appreciated.

Bock’s startup, Humu, was founded a year ago. It announced today (May 1) that it’s raised more than $40 million in venture funding. So far the company’s been cryptic about what, exactly it does; its mission statement is “to leverage people analytics … to nudge people towards being their best selves, every day.”

In a phone interview, Bock was only slightly more revealing. Humu, Bock said, makes HR software that companies can deploy to help their employees give each other credit for the work they do, both on or off the clock. The goal is to create happier workers who are more productive and less apt to quit.

Bock gave an example of a construction crew that built a hanger for Lockheed Martin, the military contractor. At the end of the project, the work crew hung a giant American flag as a patriotic salute to the company, but the gesture went unacknowledged. The foreman of the crew was still bitter about not being thanked 15 years later, Bock said.

“By simply thanking people in those types of environments, where it doesn’t happen very often, it can have a disproportionate impact on performance,” he said.

Humu uses machine learning to puzzle out who needs to be thanked. But how it works, and whether there’s more to the product, Bock wouldn’t say. The product been tested in a range of companies—Humu won’t say how many—and the company has received inquiries from many others.

The secrecy, Bock said, stems from “an abundance of caution.” Humu wants to make sure the product works in all the ways it’s supposed to before it’s formally launched, perhaps later this year. Until then, you’ll have to remember to say “thanks” without a computer reminding you.