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Utility company offers online benefit election

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Nearly 11,000 employees of PSE&G and other affiliates of Public Service Enterprise Group, New Jersey's largest utility, can now use their home or office personal computers to get on the World Wide Web and do something that most of the U.S. work force does the old-fashioned way make their annual benefit elections.

The New Jersey utility is taking advantage of its corporate Internet Web site to provide employees with access to online benefits information and transactions. Because the site is available on the Internet as well as Enterprise's private internal intranet, employees have the option of linking to the site from work or home.

This access is a major convenience for employees since benefit decisions typically are made at home, where there may be more time to evaluate the wide variety of available benefit options. In addition, it is estimated that a transaction on the Internet costs half that done by the traditional method.

Employees can access the benefits site on a self-service basis to:

?Make annual benefit elections;

?Initiate savings plan inquiries and transactions;

?Link to Web sites from benefit providers and government agencies;

?Download claim forms;

?Read benefit program summaries; and

?Contact PSEG's benefits department or PSEG's outsourced benefits center.

In making these capabilities a reality starting a year ago PSEG has become one of the world's leading-edge employers in the area of benefits delivery.

"Employee self-service has been one of our top priorities throughout the '90s, but this marks the beginning of a new era a new way of doing business in the technology age," said Dick Quinn, PSE&G's director of performance and rewards. "This last step firmly plants us in the 21st century."

Internet access is available to all PSE&G employees and retirees. Other employee self-service steps that the Newark, N.J.-based utility has taken include an outsourced employee benefits service center, which offers a fully transactional voice-response system that employees and retirees can call with any benefits-related questions or issues. The center is administered by Hewitt Associates LLC, the international human resources consulting firm that helped design and implement the enrollment-based Internet Web site.

"Many other organizations are offering some HR communication via their intranets, but only a few are offering access via the Internet," said Nancy Coolley, Internet communication practice leader for Hewitt Associates. "But Public Service offers employees everything benefits information, account inquiry, and transactions ... all from the Internet, which clearly puts them ahead of the curve."

Another characteristic that distinguishes PSE&G from other organizations is the way the company is using technology to face the unique changes occurring within its industry.

As deregulation forces energy providers to compete for customers, many utilities are taking the customer-service theme to heart. At PSE&G, the performance and rewards department is helping to lead that charge through value-added services like Internet-based enrollment.

"We're no different than any other department in the company," Quinn said. "We have our own customers employees and our job is to deliver quality service to them. I'd say that just about everything we've done in the past 10 years has been with an eye toward deregulation, and what that means to our business.

"'Everything' ranges from tapping into a first-class benefits center, to offering employees life-oriented benefits, to opening up new avenues of access like the Internet on a transaction basis."

To affirm its commitment, PSE&G is measuring the effectiveness of these new tools through employee surveys and user measures. In fact, for most individuals within the performance and rewards department, personal performance goals and compensation are tied to these measures.

Enterprise is a publicly-traded diversified energy and energy services company (NYSE: PEG) with two main subsidiaries: PSE&G and Enterprise Diversified Holdings Inc. (EDHI).

PSE&G is New Jersey's oldest and largest regulated utility serving nearly three-quarters of the state's population. It is one of the top 10 largest combined electric and gas companies in the nation.

EDHI operates Enterprise's unregulated businesses, seeking to position the company to maintain and expand its energy leadership in the region and worldwide.

(The preceding article was provided by Hewitt Associates LLC, a global management consulting firm specializing in human resource solutions.)

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