Mental Health

Study Shows How Legal Issues Impact Stress on Employees

By Jennifer Beck

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. So, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that whether they’re dealing with heightened financial challenges, complex family matters, or an uncertain employment outlook, today’s employees have been through some stuff the last few years (deep breath).

And when that stuff turns into a legal issue, it can send an employee’s stress level soaring. Whether it stems from not knowing who to call, anxiety over what the attorney fees may be, or how the matter will turn out, dealing with a legal event can be overwhelming, costly and time-consuming.  

At ARAG®, where we provide legal insurance as an employee benefit, we see many challenges that members face morph into a need for legal representation and support. Notably, we’ve seen member interactions (e.g., phone calls, chats, emails) with our Customer Care specialists increase by nearly 10% so far this year. 

Study shows impact of legal stress 

Our purpose in undertaking a stress research study was to evaluate consumers’ experiences — with and without an attorney — across a wide range of legal issues and gauge how stress and mental health can be affected. Respondents included: 

  • consumers who used an attorney but did not have a legal plan 
  • consumers who did not use an attorney and did not have a legal plan, and 
  • consumers with a legal plan, using ARAG members as a point of reference. 

Our findings showed that legal issues occur more often than consumers think. Yet the majority of Americans (85%) have experienced a legal event in the last three years, countering commonly held beliefs that legal issues “would never happen to me.” 

These study findings provide compelling insights into consumers’ experience with legal events that may factor into how brokers help their clients mitigate employees’ growing mental health concerns in the coming years.

The most pressing — and stressful — legal events

The survey found that the greater the severity or importance of the legal issue and its potential financial impact, the more pressing the need to hire an attorney to help resolve it. And with that, a greater the level of stress. In general, 11 of the top 15 legal events for which an attorney is most often used are family-centric and as such can be emotionally charged.

Notably, many of that Top 15 list align with life events that rank high on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale — like the death of a spouse or close family member, divorce or separation, and change of financial state.

Two-thirds of those who hired an attorney say it had a positive impact on the outcome of their situation — no matter how big or small. However, the economics of the decision to hire an attorney — or to try to manage a legal situation on your own — is very different for those with access to legal counsel and resources through their legal plan than for those who’d have to pay 100% of their attorney fees directly.

For Andrew Tice, an ARAG network attorney and founder of Tice Law Firm, the study findings come as no surprise. “As a bankruptcy and immigration attorney and one who provides assistance with consumer financial matters, I have definitely seen a rise in the number of financial-related cases leading to bankruptcy or the defense of credit collection lawsuits since the pandemic and surging inflation.” 

“In my experience, it’s natural that people facing financial stress carry a great deal of worry and concern for their future,” he noted. “While creditor-initiated litigation — like money judgment, repossession, or foreclosure —  is the most obvious form of financial-related stress, it can arise in immigration cases as well.”

Tice adds, “I find that most of the clients I help through a legal plan, like ARAG, would not have the resources themselves to afford the necessary help they receive from a network attorney. Being able to provide plan members relief and the peace of mind they need (and deserve) is what it is all about at the end of the day.” 

Legal issues and the impact on work

In general, consumers trying to handle a legal situation without the benefit of an attorney or a legal plan experienced more stress, more time off work, and more negative impact on their mental health.

  • More than one-third of these consumers (37%) said handling their legal matter had a very negative or somewhat negativeimpact on their performance at work.
  •  Only 41% of this group were able to manage their legal situation without taking time off work compared to 72% of those with a legal plan who were able to handle it without taking time off.
  • Consumers without a legal plan spent an average of 2.5 hours more time than expected handling their legal matter while legal plan members spent an average of one hour less time than expected.

With benefit of counsel – but no legal plan

When addressing a legal issue, three times as many consumers paying for an attorney on their own describe their mental health as being “extremely impacted” compared to those having a legal plan. 

A primary stressor for 89% of this group was knowing where to turn to get started in addressing their situation. And they also cite higher levels of stress than legal plan members when it comes to:

  •     Understanding their options and what might be the best for them (26% more)
  •     Staying focused at work while dealing with their legal issue (25% more)
  •     How much money they had to spend to resolve their situation (24% more)

Alleviating employee stress

As stress and anxiety continue to weigh on employees, employers are proactively bolstering employees’ mental health resources, recognizing they’re critical to ensuring employee productivity, satisfaction and retention. In 2023, popular mental health benefit enhancements include employee assistance programs, digital health tools and educational resources.

The findings that emerged from our study indicate consumers are dealing with all kinds of pressures — and handling the related legal issues have a real impact on their stress and mental health. We see that reflected in calls to our Customer Care center and feedback from member surveys as employees struggle to find balance.  

The study also showed that “going it alone”— addressing a legal issue without the help of an attorney or legal plan – greatly compounds the stress consumers feel. 

As a carrier, what we’re bringing to the table is one way to help mitigate stress. That stress of going it alone can be rooted in the difficulties of finding an attorney or the cost involved in hiring one. Legal insurance can potentially fill a gap in coverage and provide employees with added security. While we can’t take the legal issue away, we can offer added support to make navigating it easier. 

Jennifer Beck, VP, ARAG Customer Experience & Insights
As VP, Jennifer is responsible for the overall experience of ARAG’s members through the research, analysis, and evaluation of current processes and future trends of both consumer expectations and industry innovations. Jen leads ARAG’s transformation to a customer centric organization designed to promote revenue growth and productivity — with a reputation of providing exceptional customer experiences. In this, Jen leads the Customer Care call center, Business Intelligence and IT Operations.