Senior staff are like to retire early or look for alternative employment if their company cuts back on reward packages and compensation schemes.
According to a survey by Watson Wyatt, a third of executive directors aged 55 and over would leave their jobs if compensation was held on a long-term basis.
The report also showed over a third of chief executives of the same age would change jobs or retire if there was no prospect of incentives for several years.
Sue Bartlett, a senior reward consultant, said some staff are wondering if it is worth fighting through the recession which could occur for a long time.
"If you are an executive with your own money tied up in shares to the value of twice your salary and you have seen the share price halve, you have been working for no salary this year," she added.
Employers who are concerned about losing their staff can prevent them leaving by rewarding them, Watson Wyatt said in another recent report.