HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

Stress Much? Study Shows How Legal Issues Impact Employees

Let’s be honest: Today’s employees have been through a lot in the last few years. On the heels of the pandemic and dealing with surging inflation, mass layoffs, and political discord, workers’ stress levels have climbed to new heights.

When a complicated family matter or taxing financial struggle turns into a legal issue, it can send an employee’s stress level soaring even higher. Whether it stems from not knowing whom to call, anxiety over what the attorneys’ fees may be, or stress over how the matter will turn out, dealing with a legal event can be overwhelming, costly, and time-consuming. 

We recently completed a stress research study at ARAG to examine how consumers address the legal issues they face—and to gauge the impact on their mental health when dealing with them. We surveyed these groups:

  • Consumers who didn’t use an attorney or have a legal insurance plan;
  • Consumers who used an attorney but didn’t have a legal plan; and
  • Consumers with a legal plan, using ARAG members as a point of reference.

The results were eye-opening—and, to some degree, worrisome.

5 Key Findings— and What They Mean for You

The findings provide compelling insights into consumers’ experience with legal events and their potential connection with employees’ pressing mental health concerns. The results could help you assess how to address and mitigate their wellness needs in the coming year:  

1. Legal issues occur more often than employees might think.

Many consumers assume legal events are rare, once-in-a-lifetime events. But they’re far more prevalent than they might think. Our study found that 85% of individuals surveyed had experienced a legal event in the past 3 years. These legal events ranged from bankruptcy to contract disputes and adoption to estate issues.

2. Facing legal issues alone ramps up employee anxiety.

Consumers are dealing with all kinds of pressures, and handling the related legal issues has a real impact on their stress and mental health. The study also showed that “going it alone”—addressing a legal issue without the help of an attorney or a legal plan—greatly compounds the stress consumers feel. That stress of going it alone can be rooted in the difficulties of finding an attorney and/or the cost involved in hiring one.

3. As the stakes get higher, so do the stress levels.

Our study also found that the greater the severity of the legal issue and its potential financial impact, the more pressing it is to hire an attorney to help resolve it. Issues like this also come with higher levels of stress. We found that 11 of the top 15 legal events for which an attorney is most frequently hired are family-centered, making the outcome more worrisome. You’ll find many of these issues also rank high on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, like the death of a spouse or close family member, divorce or separation, and a change in one’s financial state.

Two-thirds of respondents said hiring an attorney had a positive impact on the outcome of their situation. However, if those experiencing legal issues don’t have the resources to hire an attorney, there can be a gap in the access to justice.

3. Uncertainty is a key stressor.

For employees navigating a legal issue, uncertainty stems from not knowing where to start, understanding what the options are, the potential impact on work, and the time and money needed to resolve the situation. For example, 89% of consumers using an attorney without a legal plan report being very stressed or somewhat stressed when it comes to knowing where to turn to get started in addressing their situation.

4. People are feeling the impact at work.

We found that consumers who try to handle a legal situation without an attorney or a legal plan experienced more stress, more time off work, and more negative impacts on their mental health:

  • 37% of consumers said addressing their legal matter had a very negative or somewhat negative impact on their performance at work.
  • Twice as many consumers in this group had to take time off work to navigate their situation compared with consumers with a legal plan (59% vs. 28%).
  • Consumers without a legal plan spent an average of 2.5 hours more than expected handling their legal matter, while legal plan members spent an average of 1 hour less than expected.

At ARAG, where we provide legal insurance as an employee benefit, our study supports what we have seen through Customer Care calls and member satisfaction surveys—that many of the stressful, day-to-day situations employees face can quickly become legal issues for them and their families. And, so far in 2023, we’ve seen the volume of member interactions to Customer Care increase by nearly 10%.

5. Stress is costing employers time and money.

The bottom line for employers? Stress in the workforce costs U.S. businesses billions yearly, so employers are keenly focused on addressing the growing mental health issues impacting their employees. In fact, the majority of U.S. employers plan to increase their investments in programs designed to promote better mental health, stress management, and resilience.

What this research reinforces is the pressing need to stay attuned to your employees’ mental health needs, no matter if their stress stems from financial, family, or legal issues. The challenge for today’s employers is to provide a cohesive benefits package with actionable solutions that speak to and better support employees’ mental wellness.

As the Vice President of Customer Experience, Jennifer Beck 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. Before joining ARAG in 2008, Beck worked in specialty qualitative research and public policy research, as well as in marketing management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *