Its time to address this expectation from records managers that all records are created equal…They’re not.

How many pieces of paper a day does the average employee create or receive? For me its zero. Now, how many electronic documents, spreadsheets, email, attachments, instant messages, etc. does the average employee create or receive per day? In my case its hundreds of objects and 30-100 MB per day.

I work with customers all the time that try to use a very detailed retention schedule they created for hardcopy documents with their electronic records. They instruct their employees to classify each email etc. based on the retention schedule with little thought given to how long this directive will take each employee. They throw the policy over the fence and because few openly refuse to use it, assume it is working.

In records management we have a 5 second rule: if it takes an employee more than 5 seconds to classify a document, they will either attach the longest retetion period to it or delete it immediatly. I worked with a large bank that had a 290 page retention schedule that employees were suppose to consult for every record including emails. Every employy I interviewed either didn’t know the schedule existed or they classified everything as infinite retention period. Hardly a usefule system.

Companies not under a federal or state regulatory retentio requirements need to get a little more realistic about electronic record retention policies. Usually “high water mark” retention policies are the way to go. Assign retention based on department or function such as “2 years” for everyone on Finance. Many companies spend way to much time and expense trying to not keep the “lets go to lunch” types of emails for example. Why not keep them, they take up little room and are not detremental.

Lets just get more realistic about records management.