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A Conversation With … Tom Jensen

Partner, Connell Insurance Inc.

Posted online

You and two other colleagues were promoted in May, doubling the partner count at Connell Insurance. How will this expand your role and responsibilities?
It’s very exciting times for the agency, for Jay [Hickman], Casey [Chastain] and myself to step into that position as young partners with the firm. The expanded roles and duties are really just capitalizing on what we’ve already been doing and what I’ve been doing by working with new consultants or assisting current consultants. My primary area of focus is on commercial employee benefits.

The Springfield area is in a tight labor market. What trends in employee benefits are supporting employers’ attraction and retention efforts?
It’s a full-employment economy, and employers have a challenge of keeping the employees they have and attracting employees they want, not just the ones that are available. (Employees) can go anywhere and get a paycheck. In some circumstances, they can go to a competitor and receive more pay. It comes back to what are some of the intangibles that you’re doing within your organization that really foster an environment where somebody feels a sense of belonging. Within the insurance benefits, medical is a staple. Other soft benefits that we see include paid-time off for volunteering (and) some of our clients have looked at and have implemented on-site wellness opportunities. I’ve also seen a concentrated effort on employee development as a means to develop their future leaders.

In our community, we’re seeing a normalization of conversations on mental health. What about employee assistance programs? Is that a common offering among clients?
I would say easily 80% of my clients offer some sort of mental health benefits. An employee assistance program is probably the single most underutilized benefit provided to employees, because it often comes with a stigma: There’s something wrong with you that you have to go see a counselor. General benefits include assistance with working on a trust or setting up a will; if you have any need for counseling, there’s generally going to be some predetermined number of sessions that you can have talking with a licensed professional. An individual has to be able to apply it to their life or it means nothing, and that’s in any benefit, any insurance coverage.

One of your clients is the Missouri Association of Manufacturers. What are some of the unique challenges facing the manufacturing industry?
We help work with and address that tight labor market, the workforce development issues that are taking place and generally the rising cost of doing business. What’s included in that would be the health insurance premiums. We’ve seen a rapid growth where those premiums have gone from 2007 to 2019. Often, we find that manufacturing companies have a very lean mindset that also applies to their (human resources) and safety departments. If it’s a workers’ compensation issue, we have on-site resources that can help give guidance and help review their claims, work with the carriers, work with the providers and really kind of take that off their plate. In 2014, we developed the Missouri Association of Manufacturers HealthSource. The program is a guaranteed cost, fully insured, which means as an employer you pay your premiums and that’s your liability. It’s not self-insured, where you still have claims liability down the road. It truly is designed to be specific for manufacturing companies. We have had success growing 10% a year since taking over (and) have successfully brought on groups from the Kansas City area, St. Louis and Farmington.

Tom Jensen can be reached at tjensen@connellinsurance.com.

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