How to put employees on a faster, happier track? Axcelis tells the first - and most critical - step: "We have been aggressive in communicating to employees why there is no bonus," says O'Connor, who believes that the more employees are kept in the loop, the more willing they will be to accept this bad news. A related step: "We told employees as early as possible that it didn't look as though bonus targets would be reached," says O'Connor.

Peter Fleisher, director of Chicago-based Ketchum, an internal communications agency, underlines this point. "The companies that get in trouble are the ones that make the announcement out of the clear blue sky," he says. "When you've been raising employee economic literacy all along, you are better positioned to weather this storm."

Very important here: "Clearly communicate that we are all in this together," stresses president of the Ford Group, Lynda Ford. "If employees see that management is genuine - and the pain is shared - people will come together and accept the realities."

Then ask yourself, "What other rewards can we offer employees?" urges Jerry Newman, a professor at the University of Buffalo's School of Management. Money, says Newman, "is only one way to reward employees. There are many other ways."

Case in point: At Austin-based Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, "we focus on what we have, not what we don't," says Marika Flatt, national media director. The company had several tough months during 2001 and cut back on bonuses, but, says Flatt, the agency has given employees special treats, such as tickets to a hot show at the Austin Musical Theatre. "We don't remind people about what we're not doing, but do help them see what we can do for them, even this year," says Flatt.