Comic Book contracts – ? Not in the U.S., as yet, but companies in both Australia and South Africa are using the approach as an alternative to the standard, legalese-laden approach to hiring contracts.
Aurecon is an Australian engineering and consulting firm that regularly employs the concept, phasing out their old, 5,000-word longer contract a year ago. When a potential hire received a copy of the comic book contract, she was bemused and then intrigued. And, says that the comic book approach was what drew her to the company and prompted her to sign on. Companies are desperate to win attention from potential employees and find that more of these people tend to read the comic book contract than they ever did with the standard, legal-heavy version. And, that is what companies are trying to do: both, attract potential employees to join them as well as ensure that they have, indeed, read the contract and absorbed its meaning. One company spokesman says that, “Our people do relate to the comic characters, and we experience a lot less misunderstandings or confusion.” Possibly, that’s due to the pictoral approach combined with language explanations. While almost everyone likes the comic book contract approach and it’s used for all employees, employers say that it’s particularly useful with people who have limited literacy skills or aren’t knowledgeable about the legalities that are described in most contracts. The Aurecon contract is 15 pages and starts with an ‘Aurecon blob character’ that says, “We always try our best to look after you as an employee. And you agree to act with the company’s best interests at heart.” Now, that’s clear-cut and simple, but almost impossible to render in a traditionally legal contract version. John McGuire, a managing director at Aurecon, says that he wanted to show prospective employees that the company is focused on innovation, even with something as routine as employee contracts. It’s not possible to avoid all legalese, which is why the Aurecon comic book character says, “We will require satisfactory pre-employment checks (e.g., background, education, right to work, etc) which are required before you commence.” [The new employee is shown as a light-bulb character in the comic.] Later in the text, the Aurecon character high-fives the light bulb character and offers reassuring words about the company’s three-month probation period: “We realize probation can be a bit uncomfortable [but] if you are happy with us and things are going well, chances are we are happy with you.” When John McGuire first described his idea for a comic book contract at a meeting, he says the room was utterly silent. Following his proposal, the accounting chief presented a complicated document on the new accounting methods. When the group was going through it, one member said, “Looks like you need a comic book contract.” And, the idea sprang into reality. It’s too early to tell if the idea will become popular in the U.S., but the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that it has published comic books since the 1950’s to explain how currency, banking and the Fed system works.