Email: when to let go

Records Management held a large class last week on email management.  There were many great questions raised and we thought it might be a good idea to share the discussion with you.

It’s just an email…so who cares, right?
Answer: we all need to care.

While most email can be deleted once your needs have been met, other email must be retained to meet retention requirements.  If you can't decide, ask yourself the following questions: do you use it?  do you need it? 

Do you use the information in the email?  If yes, then file it in the appropriate email folder. Once you stop needing it, either delete it or if you need to keep it longer, consider moving it to a folder including the date the retention ends in the title, so you can easily delete it when the time comes.

Do you need it? Do you no longer use it but know it needs to be retained for other reasons (audit, legal, administrative, historical)? Place it in an email folder identifying the retention date.  This makes it easy to review and identify what email folders (not individual emails) can be deleted when the date arrives.  When the retention has been met all you need to do is identify, click, and delete the entire folder.

What?  No "do you love it" section?   If you love it, then this is a pretty strong indication of keeping too many emails than needed in performing daily business.  If you find yourself unable to delete an email because "you never know when you are going to need it", then I propose the following steps:

  • Search inbox by topic and place all like emails together in one folder.  Now at least the emails are beginning to be organized and accessible.
  • If you have not gone into a particular folder in 30 days, ask yourself, again, do you really need it?  If the answer is ‘no’ and there are no retention requirements, give yourself permission to delete the entire folder.
  • If you have used emails in the folder, then those emails belong somewhere else.  Move them to a folder where other related information is saved.  All the other emails in the folder that were not used may be deleted. 

Question: I need help on how to use my email application.
Answer: We all could use some help with the ever-changing bells and whistles on our email platform. It is assumed we all know how to use email.  And to some extent, we do.  However, learning tricks and tips and keeping abreast of upgrades and changes can be challenging.  Depending upon your email platform, there are some good resources available.  First, IT Connect at the UW has access to free online training of Microsoft applications including 6 courses on Outlook.

We also find it helfpul to use the email platform’s FAQs.  Thankfully, Microsoft has made great strides on improving FAQs for each of their applications.  Many of the answers to your questions are right there.  Google, Firefox and Apple all have strongly supported FAQs. 

Blogs and websites are also great resources.  We would love to hear which ones you use so be sure to respond to this posting in the comment section below.  We use the TechRepublic blog on Microsoft applications.  What resources do you use? 

Question: I get emails from students asking for advice on degree requirements and/or choosing classes.  Do I have to retain all of them?
Answer: For the standard "directional questions" where the answer is always the same no matter who is asking or the information is readily available on your website or other location, then you do not need to retain the email string.  For example, a student asks how how to register for a particular class.  This information is typically available in a variety of locations and the answer is consistent no matter who is asking the question.  Once the question has been resolved, then the email can be deleted. 

For other questions, the answer may be specific to a student.  For example, a student who is taking classes outside of their major may need to receive specific advice on how to achieve this goal.  These types of emails are considered part of Advisor's Files and should be retained for 1 year after the student is inactive or graduated.

Question: Someone just left employment with my office. What do I do with their emails?
Answer: Ideally, the emails in their account should be reviewed and, if necessary, distributed to other employees before they leave to ensure the emails are kept for the appropriate retention period and work flow is not affected.

Bottom line: Have an employee who left the office prior to an exit interview?  If you are the administrator of the office, contact your IT Support and request access to the employee’s email account. The emails should then be reviewed and distributed to the appropriate people.

Question: I receive approved leave taken by email for my OWL inputs.  I also receive any needed OPUS changes via email.  Do I have to keep them?
Answer: Yes.  The email received signifies the approval for you to make changes/updates to an online personnel record.  Keep the original email. 

For the OWL inputs, create a folder for each month.  Save all OWL approvals to this folder and keep one year after the annual audit.

For the OPUS changes, create a folder for each active employee and save all emails to that folder.  When an employee leaves the department or University, the emails can be deleted after 3 years of the employee leaving their position. For more information regarding emails and personnel records, see our HR and Payroll Records training material.

Question: Do I handle emails with attorney-client privilege differently than other emails?
Answer: File all emails based on the subject, not confidentiality.  The subject of the email is what determines when you can delete an email not its confidentiality.  Of course, with any email which may have viewing restrictions (HIPAA, FERPA, etc), care should be taken when sharing the record.  However, the email itself should be organized by its content for easy manageability.

Question: How do I handle emails documenting employee work problems?
Answer: These types of emails are considered part of grievance files or complaint files.  Create a folder with the employee's name with an additional descriptor.  For example: G Smith-Grievance.  Place all related emails into this email folder and retain for 3 years after the case has been resolved or withdrawn.  The same can be done for complaint files.  Retain complaint emails/documentation for 6 years after case is closed (if UCIRO is not involved) or 3 years after case is closed for UCIRO involved complaints.

More questions? Go ahead and ask in the comment section below.  Sign up for our twitter feed @UWRecMgmt to keep up to date on our blog!

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