More than a third of large British companies admit their email management systems are in "complete chaos" and do not know what to store or how to protect their electronic information properly.
The survey, by the enterprise content management association AIIM, found a similar number of firms either have no policy or do not know what their policy is on email archiving.
Similarly, a third did not have any clear plans and procedures for dealing with compliance issues, especially concerning historical records.
Two thirds said they were in the very early stages of putting in place compliance initiatives for storing and archiving information, but a quarter had not even begun to develop policies and procedures.
Seven out of 10 admitted that content created by employees who have then left is not actively reviewed or archived appropriately.
Nearly 60 per cent felt there was no widespread understanding of exactly what electronic records are and how they should be retained.
Just 27 per cent archived emails outside of Outlook in fully searchable and traceable email or document management systems.
Some 16 per cent added to the paper mountain by printing paper copies of important emails for filing.
A worrying seven per cent deleted all emails after three months and just relied on back-up tapes for archive, said AIMM.
Atle Skjekkeland, vice president of AIIM Europe, said: "These findings highlight a widely varying and inconsistent understanding of how to deal with sensitive company information, clearly indicating the struggle that companies are facing in mounting systematic policies to meet the compliance challenge."