Retention Labels vs Policies in M365: Key Differences
Microsoft Compliance center
Jan 31, 2024 10:30 PM

Retention Labels vs Policies in M365: Key Differences

by HubSite 365 about Peter Rising [MVP]

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Unravel the Mystery: Retention Labels vs. Policies in M365 #microsoft365 #m365

Key insights


Retention labels and retention policies serve distinct purposes for data retention in Microsoft 365, with labels offering granularity for individual items and policies providing efficiency for large volumes.

Retention labels are ideal for specific data needs or where differentiated treatment is necessary, such as applying different retention periods to emails and financial documents. In contrast, retention policies are suited for broad application, like maintaining all data in a SharePoint site for a set period.

Here are the key differences:

  • Labels offer more detailed control while policies handle data at a larger scale.
  • Labels are applied to single data items, whereas policies can be applied to entire sites or mailboxes.
  • Policies are more efficient for managing large data volumes, whereas labels are better for distinct data types or specific data management needs.

For effective data retention, combine both tools. For instance, assign a "Legal Documents" retention label for specific document types and use a retention policy to apply this label across a SharePoint site designated for legal documents, ensuring adherence to a seven-year retention period. This approach blends the strategic application of both methods to meet compliance and organizational data retention requirements.

Understanding how to leverage retention labels and policies efficiently can transform your organization's data management strategies, ensuring regulatory compliance and data integrity.

Retention in Microsoft 365

Data retention in Microsoft 365 is a critical aspect of data management and compliance strategy. It involves retaining content for a specific period for legal, regulatory, or business needs before disposition, either deletion or archival. Microsoft 365 provides two principal mechanisms for this purpose: retention labels and retention policies. These tools help organizations to categorize and retain important information while ensuring unnecessary data is disposed of securely and systematically.

Retention labels allow for precise control by tagging individual documents, emails, or other data types with specific retention requirements. This granular approach is particularly useful for managing sensitive or critical data that may have different retention needs compared to other types of content within the organization.

On the other hand, retention policies provide a broad-stroke method by applying retention settings across entire libraries, mailboxes, or workspaces. This ensures a uniform retention standard for vast amounts of data without the need for manual item-by-item classification. Utilizing these tools in tandem allows organizations to craft a comprehensive data retention strategy that addresses all types of data, ensuring compliance with legal and business retention requirements while minimizing risk and enhancing data lifecycle management.

By understanding and implementing retention labels and policies effectively, organizations can ensure that they not only comply with legal and regulatory requirements but also manage their internal data governance and information lifecycle policies efficiently.

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between retention labels and retention policies:

  • Granularity: Retention Labels are more granular than Retention Policies.
  • Application: Retention Labels are applied to individual items of data, whereas Retention Policies are applied to entire sites or mailboxes.
  • Efficiency: Retention Policies are more efficient for managing large volumes of data.
  • Use cases: Retention Labels are best for specific types of data or data that needs to be treated differently, while Retention Policies are suitable for large volumes of data.

In general, you should use retention labels for:

  • Managing retention for specific types of data
  • Managing retention for data that needs to be treated differently
  • Managing retention for small volumes of data


In general, you should use retention policies for:

  • Managing retention for large volumes of data
  • Managing retention for data that needs to be retained for the same amount of time

Here is an example of how you might use retention labels and retention policies together: You could create a retention label called "Legal Documents" that keeps documents for seven years. You could create a retention policy that applies the "Legal Documents" label to all documents in a SharePoint site called "Legal Documents." This would ensure that all documents in the "Legal Documents" site are retained for seven years. I hope this helps!

Data Management with Microsoft Compliance Center

Managing data effectively is crucial for any organization to meet compliance requirements and protect sensitive information. The Microsoft Compliance Center offers tools like Retention Labels and Retention Policies to help in this task. Retention Labels allow for detailed control, enabling organizations to specify how long individual items like emails, files, or documents are kept. Retention Policies, on the other hand, are ideal for applying broad-based rules across large data sets, such as entire SharePoint sites or mailboxes, making it easier to manage data at scale.

Understanding the differences between these tools and how to use them in tandem is key to crafting a data retention strategy that works for your organization. By leveraging Retention Labels for more specific data needs and Retention Policies for larger, more uniform collections of data, you can ensure that your data management practices are both efficient and compliant with regulatory requirements. This balance of granularity and efficiency is what makes the Microsoft Compliance Center such a valuable resource for organizations navigating the complexities of data retention and compliance.

Understanding the differences between Retention Labels and Retention Policies in Microsoft 365 is crucial for effective data management. While both tools are designed to manage the retention of data, they cater to different needs and scenarios.

Microsoft Compliance center - Retention Labels vs Policies in M365: Key Differences


People also ask

What is a retention label?

Retention labels are utilized for managing various types of content that necessitate distinctive retention policies. For instance, tax forms that must be kept for a certain amount of time and press materials that are required to be permanently eliminated after reaching a specified age.

What is the difference between sensitivity labels and retention labels?

Retention labels differ from sensitivity labels in that they are deployed to specific locations like all Exchange mailboxes, whereas sensitivity labels are aimed at individual users or groups. Applications that are compatible with sensitivity labels present them to those specific users or groups, either as already applied labels or as options for them to apply.

What does retain label mean?

In the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, which encompasses SharePoint, Outlook/Exchange, Teams, and OneDrive, retention labels are a feature allowing the marking of content such as Libraries, folders, and even individual emails or files. The role of a retention label is to instruct the system to preserve the labeled item for the duration specified by the label’s retention period.

What is retention tag?

Retention tags empower users with the capability to assign retention instructions to their own mailbox folders and distinct items. This autonomy allows users to manage retention directly, without the necessity to relocate items into managed folders set up by administrators based on specific message retention policies.



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