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NEW YORK -- Even though it's in the telecommunications business, Bell Atlantic Corp. wanted to cut down on phone calls -- to its human resources department.

That's one reason the New York-based company redesigned its total compensation handbook.

Bell Atlantic developed a 306-page benefits handbook with Hewitt Associates L.L.C. to replace an older-model binder that required employees to insert new information as the company made it available.

The new booklet is well-organized and has enough white space so that employees are able to find information easily on their own, said Thomas Burns, Bell Atlantic's vp of employee benefits and compensation in New York. It's more accessible and complete than past offerings, and it doesn't require employees to keep track of inserts, which they can lose.

Bell Atlantic's booklet won an Award of Excellence for multi-subject booklets in the 1997 Business Insurance Employee Benefits Communication Awards competition. The company distributed the booklets to 65,000 employees at 450 locations in several states.

Along with the booklet, titled "The Big Picture," Bell Atlantic distributed a survey card with seven questions and room for comment. About 10% of employees responded and about 90% of those respondents loved the book, said Rita Grazda, formerly a Bell Atlantic director of human resource communication who orchestrated the booklet's development. Ms. Grazda recently left Bell Atlantic to assume a similar post for American Express in New York.

"We had one person write in and say they had been at Bell Atlantic for 25 years and this was the best thing we had ever done," Ms. Grazda said. "There were so many comments like that."

One secret to the booklets' success is the conversational style of the text, said Julie Horner, a communication consultant at Hewitt Associates in Atlanta. In that conversational method, it explains benefits much as a friend would over a cup of coffee.

In the front of the handbook are icons referring to each section. The book also contains a life events section, briefly explaining actions to take when changes occur, such as marriage or the addition of dependents. "Facts You Should Know About" are in the front section with elaboration in the back.

Bell Atlantic's survey showed the project met many of its goals, such as being useful to employees and reducing their dependence on the human resources department to explain benefit details.

About 90% of survey respondents agreed that because the handbook is easy to use, they are less likely to call human resources with questions. More than 80% agreed that they have a better understanding of their pay and benefits and services the company provides.