Companies trying to cut IT budgets are laying off staff and reducing compensation and benefits for remaining employees, new survey results show.

The majority of 1,000 enterprise IT decision makers in North America and Europe resorted to hiring freezes, staff reductions or pay and benefits decreases in an effort to lessen IT budgets and spend, Forrester Research reports.

Enterprise IT executives reported that nearly 70 per cent of their IP operating budget allocation goes toward ongoing operations and maintenance, and for North American IT leaders more than one-quarter (26 per cent) of that budget is spent on salary and benefits for full-time IT staffers. In Europe, 22 per cent of similar operating budgets is dedicated to maintaining staff.

“IT staff salaries and benefits continue to be the largest part of the IT operating budget,” the Forrester report reads. “Hiring freezes and layoffs top the list of actions that firms expect to take this year as a result of current economic conditions.”

Survey data reveals that 61 per cent of enterprise IT firms said they expect to reduce staff headcount in 2009 compared with 2008, with 23 per cent of those planning to reduce staff by five per cent or more.

“Compensation for IT staff also takes a hit, as 54 per cent of firms plan for decreases,” the report adds.

On the SMB front, Forrester found that staff cuts weren’t the first place the smaller companies looked to make cuts. The research firm polled more than 1,250 SMB IT decision-makers between February and May 2009. More than half of SMB IT departments will maintain the same headcount they had compared with 2008, but about 30 per cent plan to decrease staff, and 13 per cnet report they will reduce staff by five per cent or more. SMB IT decision makers also report similar results for pay and benefits, with 50 per cent intending to maintain 2008 levels and 31 per cent expecting decreases in 2009.

“Hiring freezes top the list of actions that firms expect to take as a result of current economic conditions, followed by reducing the use of contractors and consultants, and deferring of capital investment,” the report states.