You've probably heard that many companies are cutting back on the benefits they offer their employees. However, you shouldn't assume those cuts will stick around forever.

As storm clouds gather over our economy, companies have frozen pensions, reduced or suspended 401(k) matching contributions, and restrained salary increases. According to one report, as much as one-fourth of American businesses have already frozen this year's salaries at 2008 levels, with many others considering similar moves. Another report reflects that 70% of CFOs are looking to cut costs through means other than by layoffs, and salary freezes are among the top strategies they're using.

Among the companies sharpening their knives:

  • Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is freezing many salaries, including those of executives.
  • Motorola (NYSE:MOT) has frozen its U.S. pension plan, suspended 401(k) matching contributions, and canceled raises for most employees.
  • Airgas (NYSE:ARG) has frozen salaries.
  • Dozens of companies, including FedEx (NYSE:FDX), Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ:HBAN), and Macy's (NYSE:M), have reduced or eliminated 401(k) matches for many or all employees.

So that's the bad news. But in even worse tidings, most Americans don't expect things to get much better. According to a recent Harris Poll, only about one-third of Americans surveyed believe that once our economy improves, companies will restore or increase benefits like 401(k) matching, salary increases, or frozen pensions. About one-fourth think they definitely won't get those benefits back, while the bulk of those surveyed -- about four in 10 -- weren't at all sure what would happen.

Keep calm and carry on
I understand where the pessimism is coming from. After all, if companies save a lot of money with these moves, why would they voluntarily decide to spend more by restoring them later? That said, I think there is a reason for businesses to do so: Eventually, the economy will boom again, and "help wanted" signs will return to lots of businesses. Meanwhile, workers who were desperate to keep their jobs at any cost will look for greener pastures.

In response, employers may try to lure good workers into sticking around by offering compelling benefits. Casual attire in the office and pizza Fridays are certainly possibilities, but competitive salaries, solid retirement packages, and generous 401(k) matches are far more powerful incentives. (I wouldn't hold my breath for the return of pensions, though.)

In short, don't despair. Companies are tightening their belts today, but they may have to let them out a bit later, whether they really want to or not. In the meantime, you can still salvage your retirement in this brutal environment.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. FedEx is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Fool has written put options on Intel. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.