Coming up in the elevator this morning, I was reading the
"Elevator News Network" (I am on the 60th floor, so it is
hard not to stare at something!). It contained a bit of advice
about Email Use Policies. The advice: Do not allow personal emails
before noon, so as to ensure your employees' most productive
hours of the day are spent on work. Really?!?
In my view, policies are worse than useless when they simply
cannot be followed. No one is going to tell me that I cannot send a
personal email before noon. Well, they can try, but I am not likely
to listen. I suppose that if I was really paranoid that Big Brother
would punish me for not following the no-personal-email-before-noon
policy, I would send the emails from a personal email address or
text from my phone (neither of which options would increase my work
Despite my rejection of the Elevator News advice this morning, I
do think that it is worthwhile to attempt to curtail the
accumulation of personal emails on company servers. Herein are my
best practices recommendations for designing and implementing an
email use policy
The E-mail Policy Challenge
It is crucial to structure and implement an email retention
program that preserves valuable emails and purges the personal
emails and all those with no value to the organization. People tend
to make informal or even careless statements in business emails.
Nonetheless, many emails sent and received throughout the course of
the day have sufficient business information to constitute business
records, and an organization must comply with laws and regulations
and with discovery obligations regarding the preservation of such
A Balanced Email Retention Methodology
The key is to find an email retention methodology that neither
saves every email nor purges unnecessarily, and is easy to follow.
For a mid- to large-size organization, I recommend the following
1. Assign a coordinator to consult with representatives from
management, IT, records management (if you are lucky enough to have
such staff) and legal to develop a program that is integrated with
the company's broader records retention policy.
2. Develop a process whereby all emails to be stored are
archived to a single location (usually on a company server) until
they can be formally considered for inclusion, or not, in the
company's records management system. Have IT automatically
implement the movement of emails to this archive after a set
period, such as 60 days.
3. At a certain point, force users to declare whether the email
is a business record, that is, whether it has some value to the
organization. The system can be set up to prompt the user to
designate emails that have been archived but not declared for
greater than six months. If the email is not declared a record, it
is automatically deleted.
4. Help users decide whether an email must be declared to be a
record. For example, a drop-down menu can ask the user whether the
email has any of the following attributes: operational, legal,
financial, human resources, payroll or historical value to the
organization. Be sure to set clear criteria that is useful for your
organization and train employees how to use the criteria using
examples of common emails in the organization.
5. Emails which have been declared of value to the organization
should be preserved for so long as they continue to have value to
the organization. An annual audit of the email records can be
conducted to ensure that emails falsely declared as records
(because of fear of loss or otherwise), or emails subject to an
expired legal hold, are purged if they have no other organizational
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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