Plain Language Awards

Celebrate the stories of our clearest business communicators

Winner: People’s Choice — Worst Brainstrain Communication 2022

Ministry of Social Development

Webpage name

Who can get the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme

What the member of the public who nominated this entry said

As an employer I found this information fairly complex and key parts of it confusing. At first glance it doesn’t look too bad, until you try to work through it. In particular, I had to reread one key part several times and remained unclear about the criteria.

Given the considerable business stress of the whole COVID-19 situation and the relatively detailed and confusing text, I delayed making my applications for COVID-19 leave several times. When I did claim, I left out some people because I was unclear as to what was required, and I didn’t find the time to sit on a help line to find out.

I wonder how many other employers didn’t claim for these reasons? Or, conversely, perhaps some claimed when they shouldn’t have, because they didn’t understand. In times of difficulty, things need to be crystal clear. This was not.

What the judges said

The important information on these webpages is complex and difficult to follow. It requires some serious concentration from the reader to confidently know what is required to be eligible for the COVID-19 Leave Support. This complexity is likely to distance and ‘switch off’ readers who may then not bother to apply for the leave. In turn, this would disadvantage many New Zealand businesses and employees in a time where that extra financial support to pay unwell employees would go a long way!

Although the sentences are mostly short, they are not clear. The overall tone is intimidating and authoritarian, which makes the communication harder to process and follow. As a reader it feels that you can’t ask questions and should be able to understand all information presented. One judge commented that ‘the tone very formalised and comes across as quite draconian … with an air of authority that comes across as very uncaring. This is important information for working New Zealanders, and under the pressure of COVID-19, a more conversational tone would have been more helpful’.

The instructions include one especially terrible paragraph that made one judge say ‘I had to reread it eight times’.

Another judge said that ‘it fails to be fit for purpose. It’s overly complex and confusing. It distances the reader and makes the process overly complicated and daunting. If the reader was uncertain about the process, this would make them question it further. I am still unsure of what to do next with this information.’ Sadly, this nomination is a worthy winner of the 2022 Brainstrain award!