Public sector computer users are more computer compliant than their private sector brethren when it comes to storing data, despite high profile disasters such as the HM Revenue & Customs losing up to 25 million personal records in the post.

That's according to a survey of more than 300 SMEs across the UK and Ireland, which found that PC users in the public sector are more set in their ways, but more staff in the private sector work on wrong or out-of-date files every week.

The survey, Document Mayhem in the UK and the Republic of Ireland was conducted by Dynamic Markets on behalf of Tower Software, an enterprise content management company. It found that 55 percent of public sector staff store computer files and email in a particular place out of habit, compared to 36 percent in the private sector.

"Some would argue that public sector employees tend to serve longer tenures and consequently become more 'set in their ways' when it comes to storing work-related files, emails and documents," said David Oates, EMEA VP for Tower Software.

"Our experience however, is that having been more heavily regulated for longer, the public sector is generally well versed with managing electronic information properly for compliance. The private sector is more concerned with time efficiency and duplication of effort."

Six percent of private sector employees admit to working on the wrong or out-of-date version of a file about once a week, compared to zero percent of public sector staff.

The survey also revealed that one in six employees (16 percent) lies to cover up mistakes that have resulted from the wrong version of information being presented to colleagues, management, suppliers or customers, because of poor computer file management.

The impact of poor file management is clear, with 63 percent of employees questioned say negative consequences have resulted from the presentation of incorrect information. 8 percent say legal action was taken out against their organisation, 7 percent say they suffered bad publicity and 6 percent said they actually lost customers.

More worrying from a security angle is the statistic that a fifth of employees (21 percent) store corporate files on memory sticks, and 49 percent of employees store work-related files in multiple locations - posing serious compliance and information management issues. 55 percent of employees store work-related files such as emails, files and documents in locations other than a shared computer network, according to the survey.

This distributed manner of file management can lead to stress, frustration, arguments and a bad atmosphere between colleagues at work, says the survey, due to the inability of many employees to find key files, emails or documents.

The problem doesn't even stop when you are off sick, or out of the office. Almost half (43 percent) of middle managers and 48 percent of junior managers have had to phone a colleague, customer or supplier to ask them to send a copy of a document or email because they could not find it on their computer system.

Nearly two thirds, (60 percent) of senior managers in private sector organisations believe staff would be more productive if they shared computer files in the proper manner, compared to 44 percent in the public sector.

More of the same private sector managers also recognise the productivity consequences of file management than those in the public sector. These include making fewer mistakes, better inter-departmental relationships, improved service to customers, lower storage capacity requirements, better teamwork, less time wastage as well as lower printing and physical transport costs over paper-based reports.