Melissa Lesley Creates Benefits to Outlast Anything

Melissa Lesley of PRA Health Sciences knows the value of flexibility and standing up to new challenges in the increasingly complex clinical research space

melissa lesley
Melissa Lesley gathers with her “coworkers” as they make the adjustment to working from home.Photo by Catherine “Cat” Wilborne

Long before she became vice president of total rewards at Raleigh-based healthcare research company PRA Health Sciences, Melissa Lesley worked in an ice cream shop when she was sixteen years old. “That’s where I think I really developed my customer service skills,” she says proudly.

But since college, she’s hardly spent a day not working in the benefits space—she was recruited by IBM right after graduation in a benefits administration role and has spent the rest of her career learning how to thrive in the field of employer-sponsored insurance. Over the past twenty years, she’s worked at companies like IBM, Fidelity, Lenovo, and Advance Auto Parts, before joining PRA in July 2019.

“I’m blessed to have found my love for rewards in my very first professional role,” notes Lesley. At PRA, she has the immense privilege of working in a space she adores, crafting wellness, benefits, and compensation programs to help further PRA’s mission of being a leading healthcare intelligence partner to pharmaceutical and biotech clients and delivering life-enhancing drugs to patients worldwide. She’s had to step out of her comfort zone one or two times to get the job done, but that’s a challenge Lesley relishes.

As vice president of total rewards, Lesley oversees wellness, compensation, and benefits for PRA’s employees in more than seventy countries around the globe. “One of the great things about PRA is that we are growing and growing fast,” Lesley notes. As such, her duties look dramatically different on a daily basis, which keeps her on her toes.

It’s a role that requires a lot of flexibility and willingness to try new things—a tension Lesley has learned to embrace. “The fact that I’ve been able to work in a number of different industries has really forced me to step out of my comfort zone pretty much in any new job I’ve taken on,” she explains. She’s worked on major technology rollouts, M&A projects, and more, all of which required her to roll up her sleeves and learn on the go.

 “I literally get to come to work every day with people who help save lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Navigating the COVID-19 crisis, for instance, is a particular challenge, and further proof that “we really all have to step out of our comfort zones every day,” according to Lesley. As the impact of the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the world, Lesley and her team have had to think differently about how they serve their employees and customers.

One component of that is changing the way they conduct and monitor clinical trials, which is often done in-person at a hospital or clinic. “We have to make sure we’re staying on top of this on an hourly basis to keep our employees safe while continuing to run our business,” Lesley explains.

Another wrinkle the pandemic has presented is the challenge of transitioning from in-person to remote work. “It’s really testing our agility at the end of the day, and so far, so good,” Lesley remarks.

Even with these challenges, Lesley credits her “rock star” team with facilitating incredible new programs for PRA’s employees. “I will take no credit other than just making sure they don’t have barriers and their voices are heard,” Lesley says of her team.

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Melissa Lesley, VP of Total Rewards, PRA Health ServicesPhoto by Catherine “Cat” Wilborne

When it comes to employee participation in corporate wellness programs, for example, Lesley and her team boast significant numbers: an on-site biometric screening program performed in the fall of 2019 had a 72 percent participation rate. What’s more, their global employee assistance program has a utilization rate of over 3.5 percent—100 points higher than the book of business rate for their provider. “I’m really proud of that,” says Lesley of her team’s accomplishments.

In 2020, Lesley’s team at PRA has even more exciting initiatives planned for their employees. Currently, they’re working on a new US partnership with Omada Health, through which PRA will subsidize the cost of a personal digital health program designed to help employees to meet their fitness goals, from losing weight to managing type 2 diabetes.

“At the end of the day, PRA is a global healthcare intelligence company,” Lesley says, “and we’re in the business of improving patient lives.” For her, that means not just supporting PRA’s customers, but investing in the well-being of its own workers. “We’re a people-based business,” she notes, which means taking care of its most critical assets: the employees.

Given the substantial challenges that the healthcare industry faces, from changing technology to the threat of pandemics like COVID-19, Lesley’s job has never felt as vital as it does now. But Lesley’s been acutely aware throughout her career of the incredible impact her work has on both customer and employee in the health sciences space.

Part of Lesley’s daily motivation is hearing and seeing testimonials of patients who benefited from the medications they helped bring to market. It is a constant reminder of the value of her line of work: “I literally get to come to work every day with people who help save lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.”