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PHOENIX -- When Doubletree Hotels Corp. sought to revamp its employee benefits communication program this year, its high expectations were countered by a serious obstacle: Its workforce of about 30,000 speaks about 20 languages.
Instead of being daunted by the prospect of explaining benefits in multiple languages and to many employees with limited educations, Doubletree launched an outreach program that spoke to virtually all employees in their own tongues, on their own terms. The main tools were audio cassette tapes, shipped to each work site and made available for employees to use with loaned tape players. The tapes explained changes in the benefits program, such as a greater selection of health maintenance organizations and the debut of flexible benefits.
The tapes were recorded in 14 languages, including Spanish, Somali, Tongan, Creole, Mandarin and Russian, and became very popular with employees, some of whom are illiterate and would not have understood written materials, said Lenny Sanicola, benefits manager of Phoenix-based Doubletree. The company decided to communicate in native languages with any group of at least 25 employees.
"It was more cost-effective," said Mr. Sanicola, who worked on the project with Director of Benefits and Compensation Linde Harned. "People are always more pressed for time, and the audio cassettes seemed to make the process more simplified."
For its efforts, Doubletree won an Award of Excellence in the total benefits program category of the annual Business Insurance Employee Benefits Communication Awards competition.
Doubletree's enrollment campaign consisted of reminder posters, banners, lobby displays, brochures and tent cards, with distribution beginning April 1. Starting in May, the company distributed "peel and stick" enrollment booklets that allowed employees to choose their benefits with the simplicity of playing bingo.
The aim of the booklets was "simplicity of expression and boiling down the benefits to the fewest possible words," said Mark Schumann, a principal with Towers Perrin in Dallas who worked on the campaign.
The underlying goal of Doubletree's program was to give employees, regardless of language, a sense of the importance of benefits; to give the set of benefits a brand name, in this case "CareChoice," in the same way that hotel services to guests are assigned brand names. Employees could then more easily appreciate the benefits they get.
The artistic theme of the campaign is "No matter how the cookie crumbles," a link to the chocolate chip cookies the chain gives to every arriving guest. The photos of broken cookies on the benefits materials symbolize that the company will stand by the employee no matter what life brings, Mr. Sanicola said.