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Comic-strip work contracts

09 November 2018 - By Angharad O'Flynn

Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon has replaced its standard employment contract with a visual, interactive version.

Developed in partnership with Law Professor Camilla Andersen from the University of Western Australia, Aurecon’s visual contract’s comic-strip design removes more than 5,500 words used in the company’s previous traditional employment contracts and explains the employment agreement in a more user-friendly format while still functioning as a legally binding document.

Why?

Aurecon decided to change to visual employment contracts after noticing the standard, legalese-heavy template lacked meaningful employee engagement and trust.

“We were considering the entire employee experience at Aurecon and, in particular, the on-boarding process and how we could improve that initial experience that people have when they join a large business. We also decided to use the employment contract as an exemplar of thinking innovatively as part of our focus on shaping the future of work,” says Liam Hayes, Aurecon’s Global Chief People Officer.

“We saw the visual contract as a way to demonstrate to our staff and new hires the culture we are seeking to build, particularly around two of our Aurecon Principles: Make the complex simple and Be playful with serious intent.”

Mr Hayes says their design brings improved comprehension, understanding and meaning to the employee transition, and an introduction process by “providing something that will actually be read by new employees as a new, more open way to commence a really important relationship”.

“Aurecon is the first company in Australia and New Zealand to do anything like this on a large scale and we understand that we are the first company worldwide to implement visual contracts for all levels of employment,” he says.

“Visual contracts have previously been used in a limited contact or for vulnerable or illiterate workers, [and] Aurecon’s contracts apply to all new staff, across all levels.”

The origins of the curious contract

The original visual contract concept design was created by South African commercial attorney Robert de Rooy.

Mr de Rooy is a practising lawyer in Cape Town and developed the visual design concept after seeing the vulnerability of people who sign contracts they don’t understand, especially those from poorer regions of South Africa who have little to no education.

Cartoon

The illustration-heavy contract was first used to explain the employer-employee agreement between a South African citrus fruit picking company and its employees, many of whom have very limited literacy skills. The contract is still legally enforceable should the need to do so arise.

Mr de Rooy’s idea has been picked up by small pioneer groups of legal and business professionals around the world. Camilla Andersen is in one of the groups exploring applications for visual contracts across many different types of contracts.

After hearing Professor Andersen discuss her work on a radio interview, Aurecon’s Chief Innovation Officer, John McGuire, ran the concept past Liam Hayes. Following a consultation and design process, their visual contract was rolled out in the company’s offices in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

To date, the contracts have received encouraging feedback from staff who “feel engaged, motivated and positive about their employment relationship [with Aurecon],” says Mr Hayes.

“In 2019 we will be conducting formal feedback research, with the assistance of Professor Camilla Andersen, to collect quantitative and qualitative feedback from our staff who have joined Aurecon by signing up to our innovative visual contracts.”

Visual contracts are an emerging discipline and part of a growing, broader global movement to simplify contracts, bridging gaps between a company and its employees.

“The issue of engaging our talent and building their trust is becoming one of the biggest competitive differentiators across many industries and companies,” says Mr Hayes.

Last updated on the 9th November 2018