Keeping Pace with Employee’s Benefit Needs: A Q&A with Josh Hansen

Imagine this: it’s 3:30 am, your alarm goes off, and as you wipe the sleep from your eyes, you lace up your running shoes to embark on your daily 5k. That is a day in the life of Josh Hansen, the Total Compensation & Training Manager for the City of Bloomington in Illinois. And while many of us may not have the daily discipline that Josh does, many HR and benefits professionals can relate to his passion for providing impactful and meaningful benefits experiences for employees.

This year at Camp Engage 2023, Josh will join a panel of other benefits and HR experts to discuss ways to support employees at every stage of life. Ahead of our May 16 event, we chatted with Josh to learn more about his experience (that spans over two decades) and how certain events in his personal life have helped influence his empathetic approach to employee benefits.

Name: Josh Hansen

Title: Total Compensation & Training Manager

Company: City of Bloomington, IL

Preferred pronouns: he/him

What 3 things would you bring on a camping trip?
My daughter (she loves the outdoors), sunscreen & LOTS of gluten-free food (she burns easily & dang, she can eat), and my sense of humor—I, like many in the world—lost it the last few years. Glad it’s back.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the City of Bloomington.

I’ve worked for the City of Bloomington in Illinois for a little over six years and am responsible for benefits (health & welfare, leaves of absence, wellness, retirement, etc.), compensation, and employee training across the city. We have about 600 full-time employees and anywhere from 250-400 Seasonal/Part-Timers, depending on the time of year. We’re highly unionized with about 70% or so of our population residing within a union. 

My previous jobs were working for an HR Administration/Outsourcing company with Fortune 500 clients. I also worked at a Fortune 50 company doing a number of roles, such as Executive Succession & Workforce Planning. It’s crazy sometimes to look back at how much I use my old skills in my role today.   

What gets you up in the morning? What’s your favorite thing about your job?

The combination of consistency, having a set routine, and some variety. During COVID, my wife and I got really into exercise like we did when we were younger. I now get up daily at 3:30 am to run a 5k—including weekends. I’ve never done that, even when I was in my 20s. But I look forward to that routine and quiet time.

Then there’s the rest of my day, which is anything but routine! At age 2 and a half, our 6-year-old daughter Cara was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Level 2 with Global Developmental delay. At the time, I had no idea what that meant—it was just words to me. Since then, I’ve come to realize what reality looks like for us. Cara currently functions at a 2-and-a-half-year-old level and has for several years. Overall, she’s functionally non-verbal but in the last few weeks that’s started to change (and it’s great to see)! It’s what I’ve been hoping for, for a long time. 

We never know what each day with Cara will bring—similar to my job. I work more closely with employees in my current position than I have in the past, which is something I didn’t realize was missing in my day-to-day. Both Cara and my job have taught me things: to enjoy the moment, celebrate successes, and not sweat the small stuff. It’ll all be ok, you’ve just got to have faith.

What are you prioritizing this year when it comes to helping employees choose, use, and engage with their benefits?

Affordability. Inflation has taken its toll on all of us but especially as a public sector employer. We don’t have the salary budgets to retain employees en masse like some private employers have.  Budgets are tight, and we’re seeing employee turnover that we historically haven’t seen. As we look forward to 2024, we’re evaluating what lever(s) we can pull to help make the cost of insurance more affordable to our employees.

What’s your top piece of advice for HR professionals you’d like to share when it comes to open enrollment?

Be willing to learn and grow from your mistakes (ok, that’s two). I’ve been doing this job—off and on—for over two decades, in the private employer space, as a consultant/vendor, and now for a municipal government. As you’d expect, many of the things I learned right out of college still apply today. But it’s still amazing to me how much I continue to learn on the job—that’s something that really energizes me.

Is there anything you think benefits professionals are missing or should be focusing on more?

I know my career path isn’t traditional but looking back it’s interesting to see how there are pieces from each job I’ve taken with me and applied to the next adventure I’ve come across.  For example—having worked in benefits administration and consulting with Fortune 500 clients, I’ve seen the big picture of how plan design, file processing, etc. can be done in an efficient, cost-effective manner. And having worked at a Fortune 50 company and in my current role, I’ve seen first-hand how benefits decisions (healthcare and retirement) impact employees throughout their daily lives. It’s all helped me be more effective and empathetic in my role—I wish other benefits professionals had that experience.

"I’ve seen first-hand how benefits decisions (healthcare and retirement) impact employees throughout their daily lives. It’s all helped me be more effective and empathetic in my role—I wish other benefits professionals had that experience."

What are you looking forward to at Camp Engage 2023? 

Learning from others. We all know by now how important mental health awareness is—and I’m glad to see benefits becoming a higher-level employer focus due to the Great Reshuffle. Now that we’re settling into a more normalized post-COVID/Reshuffle world, I look forward to hearing what others are doing to engage and retain their employees.

What’s your favorite summer activity?

It sounds cheesy but hanging out in our backyard. In April 2020—once my wife and I realized COVID wasn’t going to be over after a few weeks, she bought one of those Intex pools that were all the rage that summer. I was annoyed because by that time, inflation had taken its toll and we paid probably four times what that dang thing was worth. But after putting it all together, I was amazed (and proven wrong) by the joy that came across our daughter’s face.

We’ve since graduated up to a larger pool, which is more complicated to maneuver (for those who have one, you know what I’m talking about). And our annual ritual will begin, in about a month. But I don’t care—I know after that process is over, Cara will be asking us to put the ladder in the pool. And even if that water is 50 degrees, we’ll be there with her, wading in that frigid water while our neighbors get a chuckle.

Do you have a story about how ALEX has helped you that you’d like to share?

The older I get, it’s funny how things come full circle—you just can’t see it at the time. No matter the scenario—whether as a client or co-vendor working together for a shared client—I’ve had nothing but the best experiences working with the Jellyvision team. Since I’ve been at Bloomington, we’ve often been an early adopter of functionality that’s been made available to clients—so years ago, when we were asked if we wanted to implement the new Provider Finder tool, I said sure!

Fast forward to the dreaded March 2020. Our daughter had recently been diagnosed with Autism and was receiving services through the local school district and University. Almost overnight, everything went dark. Suddenly, our world changed and Cara literally revolted—at one point, became feral. Navigating our carrier’s site to determine which therapists were accepting new patients was a mess—due to volume, etc. So we went to ALEX and were quickly able to find providers and get Cara the help she needed. I’ll never forget that. I love the systems-related aspects of benefits delivery and tend to forget the personal impacts these tools have on families.  That day, I remembered.

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