Home Did you know ? 5 Essential Elements of a Successful Electronic Records Retention Policy

5 Essential Elements of a Successful Electronic Records Retention Policy

by Mic Johnson

Today, companies are under constant legal and regulatory pressure to properly retain and delete their electronic records such as email messages. The lack of a clear retention policy can hinder the integrity of the evidence presented in litigation. And a policy that is not up-to-date or that is not implemented well can also become a legal liability.

However, creating proper retention policies can be difficult, and it can be even more challenging to actually implement them.

Here’s how a successful retention policy should look like.

Defined record retention schedule

A records retention schedule is one of the most important elements of a record retention policy as it specifies exactly how long each type of record should be retained. It defines the minimum retention period required for each record category. It is typically measured after the record becomes final or inactive.

The retention schedule should also provide a detailed and comprehensive list of different record types because not all records require the same treatment. For example, email retention policies should last between 1 and 7 years, depending on the industry, while records such as operation permits and stock certificates should be kept indefinitely.

Sometimes, multiple record types are clustered together and treated in the same way in terms of retention and destruction. Limiting the number of different retention periods can improve efficiency and effectiveness as it makes record retention much more manageable for employees. The easier it is for employees to follow the retention policy, the less risk of human errors.

That’s why many companies are adopting a simplified system based on broader retention categories, so-called “big buckets”. Creating a simplified system with a limited number of retention periods, for example, one year, two years, 7 years, is not only much easier for employees to handle, but such systems are also much easier to automate. 

Estimated records retention costs

Next, you need to take the financial implications of your records retention policy and retention schedule into consideration.

While some retention policies can seem financially infeasible, you will find that the benefits of implementing a proper records retention program outweigh the costs by far.

Fines for non-compliance with critical regulations, the costs of unsuccessful document searches and failing to present evidence during legal processes, as well as the financial consequences of failing to properly protect documents during a litigation hold can all be devastating.

That’s why it’s crucial to create a solid retention cost model and invest in solutions that will allow you to properly implement your retention policy and avoid potential costs of non-compliance.

Precise implementation plan

A proper retention policy should also establish recommended actions that should be taken in order to execute the records retention policy in practice.

It can include a list of tools and tech solutions that should be used in order to properly retain, store, and delete records. 

The implementation plan should clearly define which processes and tools should be prioritized in terms of their business impact. Email records contain highly sensitive information so email archiving solutions and proper management of email messages and attachments are most often identified as high-priority elements of a successful records retention plan.

Other recommendations can include improvements such as automating retention and eradicating manual processes and paper records.

The implementation plan should also address staffing requirements, offer a roadmap for employee training, and determine how often the policy should be refreshed and updated.

Clear data map

As more and more business records are being collected and stored in electronic form, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to know exactly which channels are used for data collection and where each type of data is located.

Each record-keeping system and storage solution has its own challenges, so it’s essential to know exactly where your data is coming from and where it resides so you can address these specific issues and properly manage every type of record no matter where it’s located.

Litigation response plan

Besides the ongoing retention and destruction of records, you should also create a response plan in case of litigation. In case a litigation hold has been requested at the onset of litigation, you must preserve all relevant records and protect them from alteration or destruction or until the legal hold is released.

Once the litigation begins you might even be obliged to retain records beyond the previously defined retention schedule and provide copies of records.

This process can be long and tedious if you’re not prepared, so it’s best to have a predefined plan so you know exactly what you need to do in case of a legal hold.


By including these five essential elements of a successful records retention policy, you will make way for a more efficient records retention and destruction program that will allow your organizations to meet the regulatory requirements, ensure compliance, boost productivity,  minimize risks, and lower costs. 

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