I've been fortunate in my years as a manager to work almost exclusively with high-performing, self-motivated teams. And I've learned that retaining those great people when you have them is important.
Counter-offers rarely fix the underlying reasons a professional decides to leave the company, such as a lack of challenge or a desire for advancement. —Paul McDonald

When you're a middle manager, your quality of life at work depends on the quality of the team you manage.

If your workers excel at their jobs, their successes reflect positively on you, and that makes the higher-ups happy. Life is good.

If they aren't doing well, they make you look bad, and your supervisor blames you for the problems. Life gets much more difficult.

I've been fortunate in my years as a manager to work almost exclusively with high-performing, self-motivated teams. Sure, there have been bumps in the road now and then, but never anything bad enough to cause a crash.

The team I manage now has been especially impressive to me. Since I don't possess some of the specialized knowledge they have, much of the work completed by the writers and editors on my team is beyond my current abilities. As such, I often find myself playing more of a pure management role, as opposed to past jobs, where I was serving as a leader but still pitching in often and "doing the work."

This transition has been difficult for me at times, because I'm used to being able to do the job of any person who works for me. But my team has been patient with me, and we've found a good equilibrium. They do the work for which they are trained, and I try to handle questions, deal with management-type decisions and clear away trouble that could derail or distract them.

We work well together, with each player on the team knowing and filling his or her role. The successes we have are thanks to all of them.

I reflected on my team members' qualities and their importance to me and our company when reading about a recent survey developed by specialized staffing firm Robert Half.

The survey was based on interviews with more than 2,100 chief financial officers from a stratified random sample of companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. markets. In it, the CFOs were asked what their greatest staffing concern was for the next 12 months.

Apparently, many of the respondents have great teams, too, because 38 percent said "retaining valuable staff members" was their top concern. That was followed by 27 percent who said "maintaining staff productivity," 13 percent who said recruiting new workers and 13 percent who said improving staff morale. The other 9 percent said they didn't know.

As I looked over that list of responses, it occurred to me that these concerns can be at least partially resolved by — you guessed it! — helping people build better work-life balance.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If workers believe that their managers care about them as people and want them to have lives outside of their cubicles, they'll be happier, more productive and more likely to stick around.

If the economy improves, this will become even more important for managers. Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director, said in a press release that professionals with specialized skills already are seeing more opportunities, "which has led to talent shortages in some areas and made replacing valuable employees even more difficult.

"Employers will need to pull out all the stops to retain their best and brightest, including ensuring compensation is competitive and top performers know there's a career path available to them with the company."

The Robert Half press release about the survey goes on to offer five tips for employers who want to retain their top workers, including:

— "Maintain an open-door policy." The Robert Half press release says employees should feel comfortable communicating their ideas or concerns to managers, and managers should build strong relationships with their teams. I try to do this, and it's been helpful to both my team and to me.

— "Promote from within. Your staff will grow discouraged if they feel advancement opportunities aren't available," the press release said. "Meet with employees to review their career paths and discuss how they can move up in the organization."

— "Provide competitive compensation." Robert Half suggests making sure salaries and benefits are at, or slightly above, market rates. Most compensation plans are established above my level, as a middle manager, but I do try to provide input to move decisions in my employees' favor.

— "Recognize outstanding work." This can be handled with a spot bonus, but it doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. I've found that simply thanking workers publicly can be a great motivator, both for the person receiving the praise and for coworkers.

— "Offer professional development opportunities. Training programs help people expand their skills and boost productivity," the Robert Half release said. "You'll also gain versatility in your team." We send several team members to a professional development conference each year. They get a chance to recharge their batteries, and they share what they learn with the rest of the team when they get back. Everybody wins.

McDonald said in the press release that many companies try to keep workers by making counter-offers when people are prepared to leave. However, he said, that's not the best way to handle the situation.

"Counter-offers rarely fix the underlying reasons a professional decides to leave the company, such as a lack of challenge or a desire for advancement," McDonald said.

I completely agree. The time to work on retaining an employee isn't after he or she has received an offer from a different company. Rather, a manager should be aware of each team member's job satisfaction and work to keep top performers happy, motivated and productive.

Work-life balance is an important part of that equation, and it's something upon which a middle manager can have a direct impact. I try to remember that with my team. I encourage other managers to do the same.

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