At a former employer several years ago, we implemented a email message retention program  for over 8,000 users.  It worked (and still does) like this:
1) Define company business record:  Any information relating to the business that the user needs to retain for their job.
2) Define record series: Related information that is retained, stored, transferred and deleted together.

To properly manage email messages, messages must be declared as records and categorized.

Users already declare email messages to be company records by retaining them.  The act of retaining business-related information makes the messages company records.

Users already categorize email records by placing them into folders.  The act of placing email messages into email folders is equivalent to the act of placing paper documents into file folders .  The retention period (from the company's functional retention schedule)is 'connected' to each user's email folders.  Each user has to correlate each existing and each newly created folder one time to the appropriate record series for his department (easily accessible within the email system).

Users are trained that if an email's content is not business related, it can't be a business record and should not be saved to a business record folder.  If they receive a message that is business related but that user does not need to retain it for their work, then they are not to save it.  Messages that are work-related and need to be retained are placed, by the user into an email folder.  The email system applies the retention period to each folder, according to the retention schedule.  Messages that are left in the inbox and not filed are also deleted after a relatively short period of time.  Messages that need to be retained for legal hold purposes are moved into special hold folders.  Users are notified when messages are due for disposal from the system and given a period of time to review if necessary.

There is a lot more involved, but it has been in place and working for over six years.  The reason it works is that the users really don't do anything different once they connect their folder to a record series.  They save and delete messages as they always have.  They file into their folders and create new folders as they always have.  Retentions are managed behind the scenes.  There are record hold processes.  There are CBT modules for all users to help them better recognize business records.  After the system was introduced, we regularly polled the users to see how it was working.  Most users appreciated the system's functionalities that kept inboxes clean, reduced storage requirements, made it easier to find information when needed, and removed information that was no longer required to be retained.

The system used was built in-house, and we realized that it was not perfect, but it was improved over the years based on user suggestions and input from the project team of Legal, IT and RM.

Submitted on behalf of myself and no other company, organization, association, entity, or whatever... Hey - I'm retired!

Dan J.

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