Aurecon's RSA office is shifting to visual employment contracts, replacing more than 4 000 words with illustrations to complement the text.


Aurecon RSA launches visual employment contracts


Aurecon employees are depicted as lightbulbs in the visual contract's illustrations

04 September 2018 – Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, Aurecon is using visual employment contracts from August 2018, eliminating more than 4 000 words from their employment contracts to create a succinct and meaningful visual contract that uses illustrations to complement the text.

The contracts were developed in partnership with Law Professor Camilla Andersen from the University of Western Australia. "Aurecon is the first company in Australia to do anything like this, and globally this is the first time a visual employment contract has been focused at all levels of an organisation in a commercial context," said Professor Camilla Andersen.

Dean Naidoo, Aurecon People Leader, Africa, says the reasoning behind the launch of visual contracts instead of written ones is in line with the Aurecon principle of Making the Complex Simple.

“We realise that starting a job at a new company can be stressful and there is usually some degree of anxiety involved in signing a letter of appointment. Some employees may feel overwhelmed with the detail that a contract of employment presents and Aurecon believes that simplifying the contract will create a foundation for a better candidate and employee experience,” says Naidoo.

With words like “severability” and “fidelity”, and phrases such as “pecuniary interest” – it is easy to see that traditional employment contracts are unnecessarily complex and don’t create an environment in which employment relationships can thrive.

Video transcript: Aurecon launches visual employment contracts

When engaging talent, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Employment contracts are confusing, wordy, and written for… lawyers? Who reads it all? Who really understands it all?

As human centred designers we wanted to change all that. We wanted to make the complex simple… while being playful with serious intent. We created a succinct and understandable employment contract. Free from legal jargon these innovative contracts look like a comic strip.

They are called visual contracts. Visual contracts are an emerging discipline and part of a broader movement to simplify the law. Aurecon and staff are represented by characters or avatars. The lightbulb avatar represents employees or ‘ideas people’.

To re-design the contracts a talented team was assembled from different disciplines – people & culture, innovation, legal, communication, and graphic design. And we partnered with a visual contracting specialist – Professor Camilla Andersen from the University of Western Australia. More than 5000 words were eliminated.

Concepts and drawings were developed in design workshops. Each iteration was tested, and tweaked. The result: A succinct, user-friendly, and easy to understand employment contract. A new way to engage with employees, to build trust.

It’s an unconventional approach, but one that will set the tone of what an employee can expect when they join Aurecon. Developed for all levels of staff, Aurecon’s visual employment contacts are a world first, and part of our focus on reimagining the future of work.

A new and innovative approach to simplifying the law – creating the right foundation for positive employment relationships.

Aurecon is now using these innovative visual contracts in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

New employees joining Aurecon no longer receive a Letter of Appointment accompanied by a lengthy Conditions of Employment document written in legal terms and small font.

By transitioning the employment contract into a visual contract format Aurecon has been able to not only dramatically reduce the number of words, more importantly, improve understanding with the removal of legalese and use of illustrations to explain concepts. 

“The message that we want to convey through our new visual contracts is that we are playful but with serious intent. Our intention is to tell new employees a story through our employment contract. It’s an unconventional approach, but one that will set the tone of what an employee can expect when they join Aurecon. The new visual contracts are much more user-friendly and easier to relate to while simultaneously giving us the peace of mind that comes with knowing that all the salient points are in line with local legislation,” says Naidoo.

With workplace polls often indicating a lack of meaningful employee engagement and trust, the issue of engaging Aurecon’s talent and building trust is becoming one of the biggest competitive differentiators across many industries and companies.

Aurecon's probationary period depicted in one of Aurecon’s Visual Employment Contracts. Click image to enlarge.

Besides boosting engagement, it also ensures that the intent behind the letter of appointment is understood by all parties.

Aurecon is a multi-national firm with offices throughout Africa and it has a culturally diverse workforce. Meaning can often be lost between offices, countries, cultures, and languages. We realised we had to create contracts in an accessible language so that people can truly understand and feel comfortable signing an employment contract. We expect the new visual contracts to help us set up relationships that succeed and predict that it will lead to easier on-boarding as well as a more open and transparent employee relationship,” says Naidoo.

Aurecon decided to use the employment contract as an exemplar of thinking innovatively as part of its focus on shaping the future of work. Nicola van Tonder, Aurecon People Operations Manager, Africa, believes that the visual contracts will be one of the pillars that contributes towards strengthening employee engagement.

“As important as the written contract is to establish the employer and employee relationship, we believe the psychological contract is more important to engage new employees and align them to our strategic goals. As a result, we hope the visual contract will create a 'wow' experience that will pave the way for a mutually beneficial employment relationship.” says van Tonder.

But are they enforceable?

Reviewing the new contracts, Clive van Coller of Aucamp van Coller & Associates says he found the contracts refreshing and well executed.

“Aurecon’s Visual Contracts are very innovative. From a legal perspective, there is no requirement in terms of labour legislation that an employer and employee must enter into a written contract of employment in order for an employment relationship to exist,” said van Coller.

“Part of Aurecon’s Future Ready strategy, the visual contract and attachments will be welcomed and supported by South African labour legislation and practices, as is also the case with some other organisations that have followed a similar route, albeit still in infancy stages,” adds van Coller.

Visual contracts are an emerging discipline and part of a broader movement to simplify the law. Aurecon will undertake a detailed assessment of the impact of the new contract later this year.

“How we facilitate agreement, alignment and engagement was due for a complete change and an upgrade. We have reimagined the letter of appointment to make sure that everyone is on the same page from the get-go. The business world today can be overwhelmingly complex but our solutions, in the face of this complexity, need to stay simple,” says van Tonder.

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