Spiralling defined benefit costs and uncertainty over future European Union scheme solvency proposals are constraining UK business performance.
More than two-thirds of business leaders polled by the Confederation of British Industry and Towers Watson said providing DB schemes had a "significant impact" on balance sheets, stifling firms' ability to reorganise and borrow from lenders.
A further two-thirds of employers who had open DB schemes with existing accrual rights for employees said they planned to make changes to their scheme within the next two years, though 89% of business leaders said they saw value in spending money on pensions compared with higher pay.
CBI chief policy director Katja Hall said: "Businesses remain committed to providing good quality pensions to help their workforce plan for retirement, and understand the benefits this brings the company as well as its staff.
"But employers' big concern about DB pensions is no longer just around rising contributions. Large and unpredictable liabilities are also harming firms' ability both to attract investment to grow the business, or to restructure to cope with difficult times."
Hall added it was "unacceptable" for the European Commission to heap more misery on DB schemes by bringing in regulation similar to Solvency II capital requirements.
"We have told the EU, trade unions have told the EU, the pension funds have told the EU. So far they have refused to listen," she added.
The survey, which polled 160 firms representing 1.3 million workers, also found:
85% of employers worried about the impact of market movements on their funding levels
71% worried about the impact of longevity changes to funding levels
60% said they were open to a bulk annuity or longevity swap in the next two years; 6% firmly expected this.
73% backed plans for a single-tier state pension
44% say they are satisfied with The Pensions Regulator's performance, 12% say they are dissatisfied.
62% were concerned about contributions rising following their next trustee meeting
Towers Watson head of UK pensions consulting John Ball said: "Plans for repairing pension deficits have been blown off course and employers are hammering out new agreements with pension trustees.
"For the 62% who are worried about contributions going up, the key issProue is how much they can afford to pay without undermining the long-term strength of their business. Some of these negotiations will be difficult but employers would be given far less leeway if the commission's proposals were in force."
The European Commission is currently consulting on changes to the Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision directive, which would place more onerous regulation on schemes across Europe.