Board members of the 30 firms listed on Germany's blue-chip Dax index pocketed an average of €2.28 million, about 20 percent less than in 2007, the research by the German Shareholders' Association (DSW) found.
Their pay took up about 1.5 percent of the corporations' profits.
Top earners included electronics giant Siemens' Peter Loescher, who drew €9.8 million in 2008, followed by Wolfgang Reitzle of the industrial gas company Linde who earned €8 milion.
In third place was the head of energy group RWE, Juergen Grossmann, with €7.1 million.
The previous year's top earner, Deutsche Bank chief Josef Ackermann, slipped from the number one spot to 27th place with a salary of €1.4 million. He earned almost 10 times that in 2007.
Ackermann and the rest of the board declined to take bonuses last year due to losses the bank suffered as the financial crisis gathered pace.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind a French proposal for the Group of 20 major economies to move this month to curb bankers' bonuses to discourage the kind of reckless investment that help set off the crisis.