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In the past, there was little to no enforcement on how long email records should be kept. Now, however, the excuse "Oh well, we deleted those emails" does not hold up. Just like paper documents, companies are now expected to keep a record of their electronic correspondence.
The good news, there is technology available that will store your company's email correspondence and automatically archive it. All incoming and outgoing email is saved (regardless if it is deleted from the individual user's inbox). Improved searching capabilities on systems such as Barracuda Message Archiver and MX Logic make retrieval email easy.
Ironically, email storage systems also have a productivity benefit. Often staff will save every email on their personal workstations because they worry they might need it "someday." This "save everything" mentality can zap email efficiency and productivity by creating slower running email software and longer search times. Do the math, 5 minutes of searching, 5 times per day, in a staff of 5 employees equals 541 hours of lost productivity each year.
An email archiving system can also improve employee responsiveness. In my experience working with companies, employees often use their inbox as their default email storage, collecting hundreds to thousands of emails. A full inbox has a way of burying emails that have not been responded to. If employees feel confident that they can find a message even if it was deleted from their email inbox they are more likely to keep their inbox clear. Messages that have not been responded to are less likely to be missed when an inbox is clean.
Ask your IT person about email retention options. In addition to legal benefits, you will increase your staff's productivity. The average corporate user will spend a quarter of his / her working day on email. Make sure that time is as productive as possible.