Developing Effective Email Retention Strategies

Tim Setchfield


June 1, 2022

Email Retention Policies

Emails are sent and received at an unprecedented level in the modern work world. They may contain important documentation such as contracts, proposals, and the context behind projects, as well as correspondence with clients, partners, suppliers and contractors. As a result, email retention is an essential part of reducing the business risk associated with information access, privacy controls, legal disputes and regulatory compliance. 

Effective email management should accomplish three key goals: 1) ensure that emails move from an individual’s inbox into centralized, secure locations for increased information visibility; 2) provide a standardized approach to information governance and records management across the company; and 3) improve the ability to find emails quickly for eDiscovery and compliance purposes.

While most companies have some form of email retention policy in place, there are several ways to streamline and standardize the time-intensive process of managing emails:

1. Understand the business need: What are your legal requirements for retaining emails? Do you have a definition of what constitutes a “record” and why?  What does your dispute resolution strategy look like? When you define what a record is, it will likely encompass emails, which in turn means they will require management. 

From a regulatory perspective, proper management of business-critical emails helps maintain quality assurance and meet ISO standards. From a cultural perspective, all employees should understand the importance of email retention and management policies, and how the policies benefit the entire organization. To change an existing behavior, the right policies and procedures must be implemented through change management processes and employee training. Ensuring staff members understand the benefits of email management is vital to help minimize the number of employees who will try to evade the processes required by the email management policy.

2. Regularly review your policies with legal counsel and communicate policies effectively: All email management and retention policies should be reviewed with legal counsel. One of the most important benefits of managing emails properly is the ability to access information quickly in the event of any legal proceedings.

Once it gets the stamp of approval from the legal team, the policy should always be recorded in writing and communicated company-wide. It is helpful to keep it simple and ensure buy-in from all business leaders.

3. Automate where possible: Many organizations allow their employees to accumulate an unlimited number of emails with zero controls over what should be filed, deleted or categorized. Among companies that do act, some institute automated features like mailbox size limits and retention rules while others invest in email archiving software solutions. Either way, the reliance on human input presents a recurring issue: If the process requires an individual to meticulously view, file or delete every email they receive, they will never get any actual work done. Further, if everyone in the business is not following the process, you will only uncover part of the picture during eDiscovery, which will not be helpful when a dispute arises.

Overall, email management can help businesses ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, reduce the risk of sanctions and the cost of noncompliance, and improve access to information across the enterprise.

Tim Setchfield is head of product at Mail Manager and head of collaboration at Ideagen Plc.