05 May 2018 – Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, Aurecon will be the first company in Australia to use a visual employment contract, 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.
Developed in partnership with Law Professor Camilla Andersen from the University of Western Australia, Aurecon’s employment contracts are legally binding contracts in which Aurecon and its employees are represented by characters – free of legal jargon and akin to a comic strip format.
"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.
With workplace polls often indicating a lack of meaningful employee engagement and trust, according to Aurecon’s Global Chief People Officer Liam Hayes, “The issue of engaging our talent and building their trust is becoming one of the biggest competitive differentiators across many industries and companies.”
“We looked at the employment contract and reimagined and reframed it to be meaningful,” says Hayes.
“We also 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. What better place to start meaningful engagement than when people are hired,” he said.
“Aurecon is an Australian firm operating across New Zealand, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East, with a culturally diverse workforce. Meaning can often be lost between offices, countries, cultures, and languages.
“We should live in a world where contracts are written in accessible language – where people truly understand, and feel comfortable signing an employment contract. A world where relationships are set-up to succeed by aligning expectations and developing the right culture at the outset.”
“Too often, contracts are too complicated for their own good. Those who develop the agreement often lose sight of the original purpose.
“We also expect these contracts will lead to easier on-boarding, and a more open and transparent employee relationship,” says Hayes.
Around the world, a small but growing group of businesses, lawyers and academics are rethinking contract design, using mind maps, interactive mediums, images, and illustrations – even contracts in a visual comic strip form.
Leave arrangements depicted in one of Aurecon’s Visual Employment Contracts. Click image to enlarge.
Since launching the initiative in early March 2018, more than 100 new employees have signed Aurecon’s new visual contracts in Australia, and this new engagement model will be rolled out by Aurecon in Africa in June. By the end of 2018, the company expects to have 1,200 employees signed-up on the new visual contracts.
With words like “severability”, and “contemporaneous”; and phrases such as “cumulative covenants”, “breach of duty”, “waive any moral rights” and “execute all instruments” – it is easy to see that traditional employment contracts are unnecessarily complex and don’t create an environment in which employment relationships can thrive.
New employees joining Aurecon in Australia 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. They are also looking to extend this approach to Aurecon’s company policies.
Lawyers will define a contract as something that is legally binding, which can be taken to a tribunal or court and they will reinforce a certain right.
“We strongly believe that there is no reason why a contract like this can’t be equally enforceable simply because there are pictures and simple language instead of detailed legal terms – although, until we actually have such a contract enforced in a court somewhere we can’t know for sure,” said Professor Camilla Andersen.
A former Chief Justice of Australia, Robert French, recently stated that as long as the meaning of the pictures in contracts is clear, then of course they are binding.
Working with Professor Andersen, Aurecon will complete a detailed assessment of the impact of the new contract later this year.
Visual contracts are an emerging discipline and part of a broader movement to simplify the law. “Ultimately, we all want the same thing – agreement, alignment and engagement. How we get there needs to be re-imagined. The business world today can be overwhelmingly complex but our solutions, in the face of this complexity, need to stay simple,” says Hayes.
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