The survey, which questioned 850 IT managers worldwide, found that 68% of companies said users get irate within as little as 30 minutes without e-mail access, and that within just 24 hours of e-mail system failure, almost 20% of IT managers said that their jobs would be on the line.
For more than a third (34%) of IT managers, a week without e-mail is more traumatic than life events such as a minor car accident, moving to a new home, or getting married or divorced.
The survey, commissioned by storage firm Veritas, also found there is a high level of awareness about the legal implications of e-mails but that management processes leave something to be desired.
Five per cent of those surveyed said e-mail and attachments already have been used as legal evidence for or against their company, and 15% knew of government regulations that stipulated a length of time for storing e-mail.
However, while 39% of respondents thought e-mail could be used as legal evidence for or against their company, 46% said it would be difficult to locate and retrieve a particular e-mail on the system if it was requested.
Analysts said companies should urgently address the way they manage e-mail to prevent potential legal problems.
“In many regulated industries, e-mail is the primary communications tool,” said Peter Gerr, senior research analyst at the enterprise storage group.
“By failing to have adequate procedures and systems in place to ensure appropriate retention and security mandates are met, both IT organisations and business leaders are unnecessarily exposing themselves to legal ramifications which could place their business at risk."