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SUNNYVALE, Calif. -- Separating myth from reality became a lot easier when two Lockheed Martin units introduced "Options '97," a glossy booklet designed to grab attention and explain post-merger benefits.

The benefits enrollment booklet won the Best of Show award for multisubject booklets in the 1997 Business Insurance Employee Benefits Communication Awards Competition.

Helping employees of Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space and Lockheed Martin Technical Operations comprehend their new benefits and how those benefits interact with existing coverage was crucial, explained Angela Sinickas, a San Francisco-based principal and senior communications consultant for William M. Mercer Inc. She helped the Lockheed Martin units create "Options '97."

Employees had just gone through the merger of Lockheed and Martin Marietta. Under those circumstances, open enrollment time meant they could miss significant benefit changes if they were not properly alerted, Ms. Sinickas said. New, non-optional benefits were being introduced that would impact the optional benefits decisions employees needed to make, she said.

So much new information had to be introduced that Lockheed Martin and its consultants were concerned employees would be intimidated by a large book, let alone notice information explaining that if they defaulted on certain decisions, they could end up with less coverage than they currently enjoyed.

"So what we did is we came up with a lot of tricks and techniques to make sure employees noticed what they absolutely had to notice," Ms. Sinickas said.

Among the "tricks" within the 64-page booklet are several presentations explaining "What's Myth and What's Reality." The presentations help dispel common employee misconceptions about company benefit plans. Those misconceptions are in a myth column alongside a reality column. As an example, under a section explaining medical benefits, the myth is, "I can switch to another medical plan in the middle of the year if I'm unhappy with my doctor."

But the reality response explains that while employees cannot change plans except at open enrollment, they can change doctors within the plan.

A three-dimensional icon flags the reader to the booklet's myths and reality presentations, contained within several topic sections. Other icons alert readers to presentations on new benefits and benefit changes.

Each booklet page is marked with a tab-like side callout identifying the section it relates to. Orange callouts mark sections on vacations, health care account contributions, a family care account, life insurance, medical benefits and other topics.

Also aimed at making the booklet easy to comprehend are several pages in the front that summarize the changes more thoroughly explained in later pages. The beginning pages also contain general information and explain which forms need to be submitted and how they have to be completed. Enrollment forms were made available separately.

Also contained in the booklet was information explaining what will happen if the employee defaults by not making a decision on the issues. For example, not enrolling in new programs could result in a reduction of benefits held the previous year.

"We wanted people to know at a glance that if you decide to skip the whole thing, this is where you will end up," Ms. Sinickas said. "If that is OK, read no more."

Several pages also contain reminders with enlarged text highlighted in gray and pulled apart from the rest of the pages' information. As an example, under survivor benefits is a reminder to update the beneficiary designation when circumstances change as a result of a marriage, birth, divorce or death.

The gray-shaded areas also sometimes provide additional tips, such as how an employee's premium or copayment is calculated for specific medical plans.

"I really love the format," said Triny Jauco Lee, manager of employee benefits for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space in Sunnyvale, Calif. "The book was a great communication tool because it took a host of very complex documents and plans and was able to communicate it in layman's language."

The booklet, which was distributed in late October this year, was aimed at nearly 12,000 salaried employees, Ms. Jauco Lee said. The booklet cost $80,000 to produce, including consulting fees. Employee feedback has been positive, and the booklet is being used to recruit new workers.

In general, employees now must take more responsibility for arranging their employer-provided benefits, and they must absorb more information about those benefits, she said. The booklet has not only helped them understand their benefits, it has helped the human resources staff explain them, she added. Human resource workers can rest easier knowing that if they refer employees with questions to specific pages in the booklet, the employee will understand the material.

Yet the booklet is sophisticated and doesn't shy away from explaining the tough issues, Ms. Jauco Lee said.

It even tackles such things as disability. The booklet explains how a variety of long- and short-term disability programs interact with other company time-off benefits and state-provided coverage where that applies. A three-dimensional graphic chart -- with pieces that fit together like parts of a puzzle -- helps explain how employees can use optional coverage and their ability to purchase additional vacation time to round out their disability protection program.

"The whole topic of disability is very complicated," Ms. Sinickas said. "The presentation is trying to help them see visually that different pieces start and stop at different times. Even if they don't understand exactly how much, or exactly at what time benefits begin or stop, it shows (disability benefits) are not all the same thing and start and stop at different times."