Amid a growing competition for talent, employee retention is overtaking health-care costs as the biggest challenge for U.S. employers, recruiters say.

As a result, most employers are redeveloping their rewards and benefits programs with an eye to keeping good workers on board, according to a joint survey by Deloitte, a New York-based consulting firm, and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists (ISCEBS), a Brookfield, Wis.-based trade group.

In a survey of 413 HR professionals, more than half identified talent management as their top priority, and were planning to improve their rewards and benefits programs.

Most employers cited employee retention among their five toughest challenges, ahead of health-care costs, the survey found. Last year, 80 percent identified health-care costs as their biggest challenge.

"This disconnect between what employees need or want and what employers are doing in the area of total rewards can be detrimental to the financial performance of an organization, especially as talent challenges become increasingly acute," Philip A. Grisafi, ISCEBS president, said in a statement. "Employers are still struggling to find that magic formula for controlling costs while retaining and motivating their employees."

In a quarterly survey of the nation's CEOs by Management Action Programs, a Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based consulting firm, the majority cited open communication ahead of a salary increases as the most effective way of hanging on to good workers.