First, understand that the most valuable employees are the ones who contribute the most to your bottom line success. Identify them. What are they currently making, and are they in an acceptable range versus your competition? (Compensation studies can be incredibly helpful and well-worth the cost).
Secondly – what is the level of difficulty replacing that employee? If they leave, who is going to replace them? The best employees always have the most options for success outside of your company.
Finally, communicate. Consider a modest employee satisfaction assessment program. Find out what employees’ concerns are; what they are looking for from you (or in the job marketplace). Take those general trends and apply them to each individual working for you – and then sit down with them one-on-one. Let them know what’s going on in the business.
The short-term economic difficulties are just that – short-term. Make sure to balance your long-term corporate goals against your short-term needs.