By day, Leigh Henderson works as an HR executive at San Antonio-based StandardAero, one of the world’s largest jet engine MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) organizations. But if you’ve ever scrolled TikTok, you may have encountered her in her creative element: as HRManifesto, a content creator with over 600,000 followers and hundreds of sardonic videos mimicking the everyday indignities of the toxic workplace.
Henderson takes inspiration from years of nightmare corporate experiences — she is quick to note her current day job, thankfully, is not a source for content — and years of quieting an urge to say what she really thinks. Her content has found a home among TikTok’s segment of irreverent corporate commentary, which has spawned trends like “bare minimum Mondays” and “quiet quitting.” TikTok career culture seems to be the antithesis of the quintessentially self-assured LinkedIn post, focusing on getting real rather than puffing up — on ripping off the mask rather than polishing it.
Henderson isn’t all about tearing down. As a self-described empath, she offers coaching and advice to help workers find the right environment for them. But survival is part of the workplace experience too, and it’s clear from the comments under her videos — which range from recognition (“Accurate!”) to personal stories to simply a series of crying-laughing emojis — that employees need this connection, too.
Henderson recently spoke to HR Dive about unexpectedly becoming an influencer, the tough spot HR pros find themselves in and why she goes mask-off on social media.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HR DIVE: I cover HR regularly, but I came across you randomly, just scrolling through TikTok on my own. I looked at your channel and saw you’ve got over 600,000 followers, which is pretty impressive for someone in the HR space. Is TikTok the primary place that you’ve grown your audience, and if so, how did that growth happen over time?
HENDERSON: I left a very toxic work environment and said I was going to take some time off. And I started writing the book every HR professional says they’re going to write, I swear. But I wanted to be able to test the content, right? I wanted to know if it was relevant or not. At that moment — when I was deciding, ‘Well, how do I test this?’ — a friend of mine sent me a TikTok. Now, I didn’t even have the app. So I downloaded the app June 3rd two years ago, and that night I posted two videos. My whole goal was if I help one person, I’m successful. Well, by video two, someone had already reached out to me saying, ‘Oh my god, you helped me in some way,’ and so from then on out like it’s just all been joy and all been gravy.
My whole point with HR Manifesto was just to help others maximize their success at work, sharing what I know as a career-long HR professional. I was not trying to get a following. I wasn’t trying to monetize at all. I just wanted to share.
Was there one viral video that really took off or was it more of a steady growth over time?
I just remember by week two, I had, like, 10,000 followers. And I remember I took a screenshot of that. I looked back at my phone around my one-year anniversary or something, and I thought, ‘Oh, okay, so that’s where I was at then.’ Because I have no record of the analytics. I wish [TikTok] would really show us more.
But I know that people really felt connected to my ‘Today’s your last day’ videos, pretending to fire people, which were all real stories. And people like a lot of the POVs and snarky content.
@hrmanifesto What part interests you the most? ???? #honest #interview #answers #money #corporate #questions #hr #pov #hrmanifesto ♬ original sound – HRManifesto
Do you just kind of jot down your ideas throughout the day? Or how do you get ideas for the videos?
I always say that I’m content-stipated. I am through and through a creative — I sing, I play instruments, I write, I paint, I mean, you name it. So I am constantly ideating. I have so many draft emails and files, it’s just like, 10,000 different ideas, right? And they’re coming to me constantly, so I have to have all these journals and places to put them and collect them, but what kills me is that I lack a lot of time to produce. I have this day job, I’m an actual HR executive, I have family, right? And so it’s hard for me to actually sit down and produce, which kills a creative. But I’ll tell you, the concepts come to me very easily.
That kind of leads into my next question, which was the type of work that you do outside of, you know, making this content for TikTok.
I do executive client support. And so I’m there with a president or a CEO or a GM, you know, whoever, helping to run a global organization. That’s been my job, basically the last handful of jobs, but I’ve worked for, I think five Fortune-100s now and so I definitely have been in very tough environments, very political environments. Some that are very, very toxic, right? Having to do M&A, integrations, acquisitions, investments, you name it. So I’ve seen the best of people and the worst of people.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the common trope in HR — that they’re there to protect the employer and not the employee … that sort of negative view that a lot of employees have of HR because of past experiences. Your content kind of flies in the face of that, you have a totally different message. Do you think that the reputation or face of HR is changing?
HR runs the full gamut. People just equate HR with the “people people” in the workplace and a lot of times it has a negative connotation, because we’re the messengers, right? HR can sometimes be that bad messenger, but rarely are we the decision-maker. So the dynamics in the workplace are pretty interesting.
With my content, I hope people see that HR professionals are workers, too. I want the benefits as well. I want a wonderful, beautiful working environment. I want self-care. I deserve these things, too. And HR professionals, especially the good ones, they’re standing up every day with imagination and courage, working for that workforce. Ultimately, we aren’t the core decision-makers of everything, you know what I mean? And we get fired, too.
So it’s a tough spot to be in, kind of on that front line, you know, between the boss, the owner, the shareholders and then the employees. You really are taking it from both sides. So I’ve tried to give some recognition to that. I’ve tried to highlight that.
@hrmanifesto Who got the “more work” bonus this year? ???? #yourewelcome #pov #wish #corporate #performance #review #hr #hrmanifesto ♬ original sound – HRManifesto
I think part of why your videos are so refreshing is because they subvert expectations, especially for somebody who is in HR. You swear, and you poke fun at people who are in management roles and things like that. And these are often the things that people are warned against doing online, right? Like, ‘Don’t say these things on social media, don’t act like this on social media.’ Like we’re all supposed to wear a mask and be these professionals all the time. I’m curious how you see the role of social media evolving, especially as people are continuing to worry about hiring managers potentially looking at what they post, but at the same time wanting to be real people who have personalities online.
I don’t know that it’s social media evolving as much as it is the workplace evolving, especially as we have Gen Z coming in. And it is fascinating, having all these iterations of the workplace and being at one meeting, and everyone has a different opinion on what you just asked me. But I’ll tell you, at the end of the day, what I want for myself is to be unapologetically and authentically me at all times. And I am so privileged to be able to do that. Because I would say the majority, let’s say, 51% of the population cannot do that. Or they deny themselves that freedom, that ability. Some literally can’t, you know, for whatever reason — I won’t get into all the social things that go on in the world, but some choose not to.
“Everything that I consider my differentiators — I muted those to be successful at corporate and lost myself. I died inside.”
Creator of HR Manifesto
I was one that chose not to for the longest time and hid everything creative and beautiful about myself. Like everything that I consider my differentiators — I muted those to be successful at corporate and lost myself. I died inside. Yeah, super successful, always accomplished in corporate. But I felt empty as hell. You know why? Because this is me. This is me and I couldn’t be her every day. And I coach others now: ‘Bring your whole self to the office. Just bring it all.’ We do that anyway, right? That’s why we feel so uncomfortable or conflicted when we try to hide who we really are. Because we are bringing all of that: the baggage, the beauty, the joy, the pain, it’s all coming with us anywhere we go in this world.
I see so many people on that journey as well. You get to the point, if you’re lucky, where you realize, ‘I’ve just got to be me, I’m so sick of not being me.’ A lot that comes out in HR Manifesto.
But back to the cursing thing — no one curses more than corporate professionals.
You mentioned a book. Did you end up putting that aside and focusing on TikTok, or are you still working on the book?
I’m still working on the book, but like I tell folks, it’s a passion project. It’s hard to get in the zone and then just be able to write. But it’s all about toxic workplace survival. It’s got some of those top coaching tips to help people navigate the workplace and maximize their success. So that’s all drafted out, I’m ready for a publisher, so hopefully I can get there. As a writer, it’s just one of those bucket list items you would hope to achieve one day.