How long is too long to hold onto documents that have outlived their purpose?
We could all stand to declutter our houses and offices. One of the biggest hassles in doing so is knowing whether or not you should keep a particular item. While celebrity decluttering expert Marie Kondo would ask you to determine if the item “sparks joy”, we don’t have that luxury when cleaning out our company’s electronic content management system. This is when having a document retention policy for your company’s ECM system is essential.
What is a document retention policy?
You may be wondering what on earth a document retention policy even is. Sometimes called a “record and information management policy”, a document retention policy is simply a plan for how to safely and legally keep a document as well as when and how to destroy it. These policies can help companies stay out of legal trouble by guiding the proper usage of documents and other information. Internally, they’re also handy for streamlining audits and maintaining ECM system tidiness. So, what are the recommended steps for developing a document retention policy?
- Develop and execute a categorical system for your company’s restored documents. In order to more efficiently process your company’s records, it is helpful to be able to categorize them so they can be processed and stored. Not only does this ensure that they stay on their retention schedule, but this also limits cybersecurity risks that can happen when access is too universal.
- Develop and execute a retention schedule. Depending on the document’s categorical classification, the appropriate authorities within your organization should know what will happen with a particular record throughout its lifetime with your organization. They should know how long they are required to retain the documents and when they should be destroyed by law. Aside from the legal implications, it’s helpful to have a plan for the use and storage of each category of document.
- Use the law as your first determiner of document retention. Certain documents must be retained until a specific date. Other documents must be destroyed by a certain date. Before creating any company-specific guidelines, use the legal guidelines for developing a document retention policy. Failure to retain or to destroy by applicable dates can result in legal repercussions.
- Make your document destruction policy clear for all users. The system by which documents are destroyed should be clearly understood. Specific laws require different types of document destruction.
- Schedule audits to your retention policies. Your own retention policy should also be subject to a retention policy, which means it is subject to periodic review. During these reviews, make sure that your plan is still following relevant laws and the changing nature of your own organization’s document management goals.