Finding Joy in the Modern Workplace with HRManifesto's Leigh Henderson
Connect with Leigh:
Learn more from Leigh and her experiences supporting five different Fortune 100 companies as an HR executive over at HRManifesto.
Join Leigh and her co-hosts in the staff meeting you actually WANT to attend over on the HR Besties podcast.
Learn the effects of mental health in the workplace and why monitoring it is good for business, here.
Looking to transform your HR strategy, but not sure where to start? Paychex can help.
Leigh Henderson (00:00)
What's interesting is that people are like, wow, the workplace is really shifting now. The workplace has always shifted. We just have access to information that helps enhance our dialogues and discourse with one another, right? So, we're really having these conversations just more vulnerably and open, out in the open. But it has always been shifting and changing. Right? Every generation has had an incredible impact some positive things and some negative things on the workplace. Right? So that's always been happening. Some people are like, this is new. It's like, this ain't new. This is people. This is always happening, right?
Rob Parsons (00:40)
Welcome to season four of Paychex PULSE, an HR Podcast, where HR professionals can find great insights on today's top issues and be inspired to build and lead effective teams in a healthier workplace. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Paychex PULSE podcast. I'm your host, Rob Parsons. My guest today is Leigh Henderson. With nearly 20 years in corporate America, supporting a handful of Fortune 100 companies as an HR executive, Leigh devotes her time to helping companies not suck through her HR expertise and content creation, as TikTok's HR Manifesto focused on sharing tragic work realities and approachable coaching through inspired storytelling. The goal of HR Manifesto is to unify followers around the shared human experience of work and to maximize professional success. Leigh, welcome to the podcast.
Leigh Henderson (01:35)
Rob, thank you so much for having me. It's wonderful to be here with you all.
Rob Parsons (01:39)
And it's so great to have you on the show. I first saw you on TikTok, and it was a few years ago, but you jumped right out at me. It was very raw. It was very refreshing content. So, give me a little background. What inspired you to expose some of those dark undercurrents, the realities of the toxic workplace?
Leigh Henderson (02:02)
Yeah. Well, I'll share with you that I am absolutely a toxic workplace survivor. So that is what I call myself, as well as my followers. And I had just left a toxic workplace in May of 2021, and I started doing the thing that every HR professional says they're going to do, and that is write a book, because we see the full spectrum, don't we, of the human condition. And so, I start writing this book, and then I'm like, well, how do I test content for this book? And at that moment, a friend of mine, like all of our friends and family do, they sent me a TikTok. I didn't even have the app downloaded, and so I was like, you know what? I should test some of this content here and see if it resonates, see if it would be helpful, right? And so, June 2021 is when HR manifesto was born. I downloaded the app, and a couple of hours later, I posted a video, and two weeks later, I had 10,000 followers. So, to your point about the content being raw, maybe a little acerbic and maybe a little too authentic and transparent at times. I think that that was a moment in time, especially where that content was seen as refreshing, especially to those that were also trying to survive a toxic workplace and suffering as well. So, sadly, it resonates.
Rob Parsons (03:25)
Yeah, it is like that. Yeah. That's the sad news of the story, right?
Leigh Henderson (03:29)
Yeah, exactly. Like, oh, I'm sorry, this resonates.
Rob Parsons (03:34)
But what I liked about it, the flip side, was your focus on the value of people, the value of employees. And I had the good fortune of having a dinner a while back with some of our HR leaders. People work with clients every day, and to a person, they said they got into HR because they wanted to make a positive impact on people's lives. And I feel that's very common in the HR field, that feeling. But it's not 100%, is it?
Leigh Henderson (04:06)
Yeah, I mean, that's a great point. It is rare that you come across an HR person that genuinely hates people or doesn't want to have a positive impact or isn't a people-first leader, especially nowadays. Right? They do exist. I have worked for a couple of them. So, I'm here to say, sadly, they do exist. But the majority of HR professionals, I mean, give their blood, sweat, and tears to their people, because we see people at their best, and we see people at their absolute worst, the full spectrum of the human condition. We cry together, we try to thrive together. And so, HR professionals genuinely care, which makes it hurt even harder, I guess, when HR gets the bad rap that it does. Right? But on the flip side, HR professionals, we don't necessarily run the place. Right? We aren't your CEO, and we are part of, but we're not your full executive leadership team. And so, the business makes decisions, the board of directors makes decisions, and sadly, HR becomes the messenger in a lot of those places. And of course, we're that person that's sticking up for your leader no matter what, even when they throw us under the bus. But, yeah, HR professionals, again, 95% of us, just like in any other function, we genuinely care about what we do for a living, and we care about you, the people in the workplace.
Rob Parsons (05:38)
It is a challenge, and you touched on it. I had a great conversation with Cy Wakeman a few years back and talked about how she talked about drama in the workplace and how much is self-induced, how many challenges in the workplace are self-induced. And I know the old saw is people don't leave companies, they leave managers, they leave leaders, they leave these people that are bringing these things onto them beyond just the work. We all want to do a good job. We wake up, we want to do a good job, and yet somehow it becomes a challenge. How does HR make an impact there? We're not powerless, are we?
Leigh Henderson (06:15)
No, absolutely not. But I think that recognition is the first step. And the important thing when I say recognition is recognizing that people bring their whole selves to the office. They bring their worst selves some days. They bring their best selves other days. But they bring mental illness, they bring loneliness, they bring sadness along with their joys. Right? And so, recognizing that there are some folks that really focus to your point on drama and perhaps thrive off of it, perhaps they need the attention. They bring their insecurities. They bring their lack of confidence. They bring all sorts of coping mechanisms they learned in childhood. I mean, this is really a psychological case study, right? But my whole point is that everyone is different and nobody is perfect. And so, it's a real mixed bag, the type of activities and behaviors that you see happen within the workplace. And so, from an HR perspective, right, and how do we support and help that? Like I said, for me the first step was, okay, recognition that I can't control anybody and we're all on this journey together and everybody is different. And I'm going to respect those differences in people. And as much as I can build relationships so that I can try and influence these individuals, especially the leaders, to your point, I say in my bio that I try to help businesses not to suck. Well, that's mostly through coaching leaders not to be aholes. I mean, first and foremost, because to your point, the other point you made that people, they don't leave organizations, they leave people. They also want to work for certain people, right? So, it's not all bad. But again, HR could lean in. I recommend leaning in as much as you possibly can and building those trusting and trusted relationships, because that's really your currency in the organization is influence. So, making it real, being genuine by how you do that, and really transparently and obviously caring, it's going to make the world of difference.
Rob Parsons (08:30)
I'd love to dig into your mention of the coaching for a moment. Many managers get that position by default. They were a good individual contributor and they're thrust into a role with no training on how to actually manage humans. So, what do you find when you're coaching managers and leaders, what's a common challenge? Or what is the thing that's hardest to overcome? Or what is just something so obvious that people aren't thinking about? How can we help right away? Help these people be better?
Leigh Henderson (09:01)
Yeah. Well, I would love to just quick call to action: If you are a decision-maker in an organization, invest in your leaders. All the research tells us that people leave people. And the people that are leading your strategy, your goals, your workforce are your leaders, and they need so much support and counsel. To your point, we love just promoting the best expert and the subject matter expert. It's very rare that we say, gosh, you know what? That person has all the attributes and qualities of a great leader. And so, hey, let's promote them into a leadership position, right? Because that takes so much intent and deliberation to be able to do that. And we're just not good. We work fast, right, in an organization or business. And so, first and foremost, please invest in your leaders. They're absolutely worth it. But it is very rare that the leader has mal intent. It sucks to suck. It hurts to suck. They want to be equipped. And so I think that oftentimes when you are being affected upon as a worker by a toxic or bad boss, you're instantly like, something's wrong with that person. Right? Like, they're just a bad person. Well, really, they're probably an ill-equipped leader. And so now they're working from a place of desperation. They're just focused on job security. They're weaponizing gossip. They don't know what the hell to do. So all they're trying to do now is to control narratives. And that's where you get a lot of that drama and the weaponization of information in the office. It's because of that, it all comes down to just leadership development. Can you believe it? And so, again, putting that first, I think, would just really create just this whole shift within your culture to something more positive.
Rob Parsons (11:05)
That's super interesting. I love what you said about controlling the narrative, like, such a big deal right there.
Leigh Henderson (11:12)
Rob Parsons (11:14)
I want to shift gears a little bit, too, because there's a new generation coming online who's laying out a new narrative. I'm the proud father of a Gen Z daughter, and I'm so proud of they're not tolerating the status quo. They're expecting more, and they're expecting more accountability. And I've really been refreshed by that. What are your thoughts? Or what are you seeing about the new generations coming online and just the impact they're having on the workplace.
Leigh Henderson (11:47)
I love Gen Z. I'm like, go, Gen Z, go. Now, what's interesting is that people are like, wow, the workplace is really shifting now. The workplace has always shifted. We just have access to information that helps enhance our dialogues and discourse with one another, right? So, we're really having these conversations just more vulnerably and open, out in the open. But it has always been shifting and changing, right? Every generation has had an incredible impact, some positive things and some negative things on the workplace, right? So that's always been happening. Some people are like, this is new. It's like, this ain't new. This is people. This is always happening, right? But with Gen Z, I love their transparency, right? And so, we've all seen the viral TikToks or Reels or wherever you get your information. We've all seen them talking about things like quiet quitting or establishing healthy boundaries. And what's so fascinating by this generation, what's so fascinating when it comes to this generation is that they are so insular looking, right? They are not looking for just money. They're looking for a way to make an impact. And they're so open about that, right? So even me, as a geriatric millennial, it was all about, okay, I have to build a career, right? I have to have money to live and to eat. And now these new folks are coming in like, you know what I want joy. What the hell? You get to choose joy. Like, wow, that was never on the table. It was never on the table. But when you think about. And I think about this a lot because I'm such an.org behavior and psychology nerd, I apologize in advance. But when you think about what this generation has seen, right, mom or dad come home from the financial crisis and laid off crying at the kitchen table together as a family, they've seen, perhaps 9/11, they've seen war. They've seen automotive bailouts, whatever it is that they've seen, right? So much happening all at once and again, just having that extreme access to it with all the virality and just all the information at your fingertips, where I used to write letters back in the day, it's just a totally different way of now, looking at all of that that's coming at them and just saying, you know what? There's a lot of noise out there, and I don't need to be in that hustle, and I don't need to be in that rat race. And you know what? I want boundaries and I saw my parents kill themselves, perhaps literally, sadly. And you know what? I want more than that and more for me is now joy. And to me, I'm just like, oh, my gosh. Wow, okay. And just how they're so open and vulnerable and transparent about that love. I'm here for it. Like, go Gen Z, save us all, please.
Rob Parsons (14:49)
No question. And that's talking about your nerdiness around org and around psych. Tell me about the HR Besties Podcast, because now there's three of you that are tackling these issues in a different way. Maybe not just pointing out some of the challenges, but talking about solutions.
Leigh Henderson (15:14)
And so, we started two other influencers, creatives, and myself, Jamie Jackson and Ashley Heard. We started this little podcast last October 2023 called HR Besties. And really, the whole point of HR besties is to flip the script on who are HR professionals? What is HR? Its value in the organization. How do you hack corporate America? Just really a peek behind the corporate curtain on, hey, what's really going on in the workplace and having really genuine and authentic and open and transparent. You can tell I love all those words. But sometimes cringy conversations on how to survive the workplace and what's happening in the workplace and how things really go down in the workplace. Because as an HR professional, you get to see those things, right? You get to see how the secret sauce is made. And it would blow your mind some days that, hey, guess what? Your CEO has no freaking clue what to do. They're people, too. Oh, my God. Can you believe it? No one's an oracle in corporate. But that's really the point of the podcast, is to just build that community through just open, sometimes cringey, but definitely transparent and vulnerable conversations around the workplace. So we actually are going to be filming season two that'll be coming out late January 2024. So we are so excited to bring you season two and some of the topics. Oh, my, I can't wait.
Rob Parsons (16:52)
That's fantastic. And I think a place of community for HR professionals, so important. A lot of HR professionals, as you said, are out on the island. They care about people. They're trying to do well, and they are the bearers of bad news. And it's got to be very difficult at times.
Leigh Henderson (17:09)
Yeah. Lots of teams of one out there, right? Where it's like just the HR manager and then surrounded by, oh, my gosh. So, we love being that light in the darkness, especially for those HR pros. Like, we see you, we've been you at times. We get it. So, we're here to support as much as we can. And then for those that tune in, because that's probably the majority of folks that tune in, they're actually not in HR. We hope that they glean something from the podcast, some little nugget, right? We get a lot of that. People that go, holy, I had no idea that's how things actually went down or, oh, thanks for the insight. Now I know to perhaps do something a different way. So I think shifting perspectives and distill my line from earlier, shifting the narrative to a more positive one on the HR function, that's what our primary focus is, and that's so important for us.
Rob Parsons (18:04)
I love it. So, we are up against time now. Any final thoughts for our listeners?
Leigh Henderson (18:10)
Well, this is January, right? People do resolutions and whatnot. But I know the theme this year is to talk about what's in for 2024. Not necessarily resolutions, but what's in versus what's out. And I just like to share. What's in for me are healthy boundaries in all places of my life. What's also in for me is, let's see, healthy boundaries for sure, and only being in places that value me. Because so often throughout my career, I put up with not being valued or being treated with disrespect far too long. And it unfortunately shifted who I was at times. I forgot that I was amazing. And so that's what's in for 2024 for me. What's out toxic bosses all the way. But again, give those toxic bosses just a little grace to know they do it out of desperation and because they lack the confidence and support to be better. So that's what I have signing off from HR Manifesto for what's in and out for 2024.
Rob Parsons (19:20)
That's fantastic, Leigh, that word grace needs to be used more often, I think.
Leigh Henderson (19:25)
Rob Parsons (19:26)
Excellent. Thank you so much for joining the podcast today. This was great conversation.
Leigh Henderson (19:30)
Yes, thank you for having me. I appreciate you all.
Rob Parsons (19:34)
Thanks. And thank you to our listeners as well. You can find HR Manifesto on all the major social media platforms. And of course, you can go to hrmanifesto.com and you can find the HR Besties Podcast on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you love to listen. Thanks again. And as always, please stay happy and healthy. Be sure to subscribe to this and our Paychex THRIVE Business Podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Looking for more ways to keep your finger on the pulse of industry dynamics? Visit our resource center for the latest research, thought, leadership, and news at paychex.com/worx. That's W-O-R-X. Thanks again for joining us. Until next time, please stay happy and healthy.
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