While she was a student the University of Alabama, Lesley Leiserson studied finance, economics, and oil painting. She attended lectures on macroeconomics one day and learned practical wet-on-wet painting techniques the next. As a result, Leiserson—now the senior director of benefits and health management at the Home Depot—has a lot of color on her palette as a veteran HR leader.
Leiserson recalls the contrast between her two fields of study. Her finance classes ended with intense exams while art programs required final paintings. Twenty students lined up their masterpieces in a row. The instructor slowly walked by the row of landscapes and portraits, giving an oral critique of every canvas. “Math and finance are either right or wrong, but art is subjective,” Leiserson says. “I had to quickly get comfortable with feedback and how people interpret my efforts.”
Today, Leiserson is working on the art of HR, which she approaches creatively. In some ways, the field requires a bit of trial and error. Benefits and health management are her blank canvases. She relies on standard “primary colors,” like paid time off, health plans, and wellness programs, then mixes in “secondary colors.” Those perks fringe benefits that attract employees, boost morale, and prevent burnout give Leiserson the greatest chance to express her creativity.
A career in HR wasn’t always in the plans. After graduating college, Leiserson began her career at consulting services and benefits outsourcing firm Hewitt Associates, where she served mid- to large-sized organizations. In doing so, Leiserson encountered issues and regulations related to compliance laws like HIPAA, ASO, and COBRA.
The position afforded Lesley Leiserson the opportunity to broaden her experience. “I got to look at many different companies and how they think about benefits, and I tie those best practices into all that I do,” she reflects. After going from one large scale implementation to the next, Leiserson eventually landed on the Home Depot account. She fell in love with the company’s culture and ceased moving on to other clients.
She officially joined the company full time in 2006. Over her tenure, Leiserson has used her full palette to mix together what she brings from the worlds of finance, art, benefit administration, and consulting. “My varied background helps me ask questions and not make assumptions. It’s important for HR leaders to be intentional and understand different companies and different cultures and how this should drive how we deliver benefits,” the senior director explains.
Her approach has inspired many external vendors. Dickon Waterfield, chief commercial officer at Employer Direct Healthcare says, “Lesley is one of the most strategic HR professionals that we have had the pleasure of partnering with. She cares enormously about her members and providing her population affordability of care is always top of mind—especially in the current environment. Lesley is always at the cutting edge, willing to take risks to drive change and push her team and partners to drive the most meaningful impact.”
When creating programs, Leiserson starts with a simple question: What experience is she trying to deliver, and how does she want to make employees feel? Since the Home Depot’s ethos is building strong relationships, providing excellent customer service, and doing the right thing, Leiserson wants to follow suit. She seeks to deliver an experience that treats her colleagues well and makes them feel valued so they in turn relate to customers and achieve strong results.
The company offers elder care, backup care, tuition reimbursement, parental leave, adoption help, discounts, and other benefits. These are meaningful perks to a large and diverse workforce.
The Home Depot has more than four-hundred thousand employees; administering benefits for them is no simple task. Now, in the wake of COVID-19, Lesley Leiserson is focused both on getting back to the basics and finding new ways to help her colleagues thrive. She’s partnering with Quest Diagnostics to offer on-site screenings through thousands of events at nearly every retail location.
Employees can get their blood drawn and access insight about their health statuses and any challenges they face. Those same employees also complete questionnaires during open enrollment to receive a personalized checklist of the things they can do to improve their own health outcomes. If they complete certain activities and milestones—anything from dental cleanings to annual mammograms to physical exams—they receive a discount on payroll deductions that cover medical plan premiums.
“Lesley is an inspiring leader and HR professional who works tirelessly to identify and address the needs and the interests of the diverse Home Depot population,” observes Wendi Mader, Quest Diagnostics’ vice president of commercial and employer channel. “She proactively brings innovative, equitable programs to Home Depot associates that give them the right tools to increase health literacy and help them take care of themselves and their families.”
An annual health challenge keeps The Home Depot’s employees engaged and incentivized. Teams interact on Yammer and get points for reducing salt and sugar, walking, running, or participating in plank challenges. There are individual prizes, and the winning location in each district gets a financial boost to its “fun fund” employees use for celebratory meals and special events.
Leiserson doesn’t have to look far to find the positive benefit of these programs. She’s frequently reminded when she logs into her work email. In October 2022, she received an email from an associate at a supply chain location. The individual went to his primary care physician for a physical required to keep his “healthy living” premium discount.
The visit revealed high PSA levels in the blood, which indicated cancer. An MRI and biopsy confirmed he was suffering from stage III prostate cancer. A care team intervened and removed the man’s prostate just in time; he is now cancer free. “Thank you for the healthy living program,” he wrote in a message that was passed on to Leiserson. “It may have just saved my life.”
These emails motivate Lesley Leiserson and her team to do even more. Her team has also collaborated with Imagine Health as well as Employer Direct Healthcare to leverage networks designed to get patients to top performing providers, ensuring high-quality, lower costs while providing patient care advocacy. These networks remove uncertainty and take the guesswork out of finding the best provider for associates and their family members
“Lesley is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking HR executives I’ve worked with in the past twenty-five years,” says Chris Cigarran, chief commercial officer at Imagine Health. “She is passionate about the Home Depot culture, their associates, and providing real healthcare solutions to her organization. Imagine Health is proud to ‘bleed orange’ and to be a long-term partner of the Home Depot, working side-by-side with Lesley and her amazing team.”
In 2023, The Home Depot brought free vision coverage to all of its associates. The program includes a free annual exam with retinal imaging and covers frames and lenses with a fifteen-dollar copay. It’s a unique benefit, but Leiserson isn’t content; she still wants to do more.
“Being in HR in today’s world is about finding the best available resources to help people that need help,” she says. She’s investigating ways to bring on what she calls a “compassionate connector.” Someone who can be available to connect employees with help, treatment, and resources. Leiserson views the compassionate connector as part life coach, part social worker, part medical case manager.
To Allison Malito, senior vice president of direct client services at bswift, Leiserson’s empathetic leadership is apparent. “The compassion that Lesley and team have for their associates is truly what drives the Home Depot’s benefits strategy and goals to promote awareness, action, and results,” she says. “It’s an honor to partner with Lesley and the Home Depot to deliver solutions at the intersection of cutting-edge innovation and associate well-being.”
The Home Depot’s customers are all building special projects. Inside its corporate headquarters, Lesley Leiserson is building the specialized benefits programs that take care of its employees.