Gray skies, chilly temperatures, failed New Year's resolutions: these unfortunate afflictions can all contribute to winter blues. Feeling down? Your team might be, too.

But employee happiness and engagement are key to work productivity and success. Research shows happiness at work makes people 12 percent more productive. And in one Gallup study, highly engaged teams outperformed poorly engaged teams by 22 percent in profitability.

As a leader, that means fighting winter gloom should be a priority.

While larger companies may have the resources for structured employee development programs or more lucrative perks, smaller companies must take a different approach.

Here are six low-cost tactics you can implement today to boost motivation and provide a positive work environment in which team members thrive:

1. Define clear company goals

If all team members understand your goal -- and how their individual work contributes to attaining that goal -- they'll be more motivated to achieve it.

To keep my current team in the loop, we sit down each February to set goals for the year. Throughout each week, I help my team step back and understand the bigger picture of why we're doing something.

2. Give simple savory rewards

Learn what motivates your team. In some cases, that could be summer Fridays or a Thursday after-work drink.

For my team, it seems to be donuts lately. We have a favorite local donut shop, KANES, that specializes in hand-crafted, beyond-imagination, enormous donuts.

When we reach milestones, we celebrate by savoring some sugary treats. Our senior product development manager is our current record holder, boasting four donuts eaten within a few hours. (I feel sick after one.)

CREDIT: iStock

3. Build open and honest relationships

I meet with every team member about twice a year to check how they feel about working here. It's a priority.

Typically, I take people to a coffee shop so we can talk in a different environment. In my experience, people share more outside the office. Beyond that, I've never believed in having an office, and I make myself available to everyone.

4. Encourage failure

To advance, you have to encourage your team to try new things, experiment, and test creative ideas. That means there's a chance of failure. Don't stifle this creativity and innovation with fear.

At my company, we connect over a weekly Friday morning "Experiments Meeting." We review our innovative tests and present data-driven results. Sometimes they're successful, and sometimes they're not.

Either way, we focus on learning -- not what went wrong. Failure always leads to success when you learn from it.

5. Say "thank you" often

I'm not talking about handing out participation trophies here. A simple "thank you, I know you worked really hard on this," goes a long way.

Acknowledging the time and effort spent on something and recognizing its impact makes a huge difference. People feel noticed and appreciated, which, in turn, fuels motivation to do more.

6. Encourage a positive and fun work environment

Make your office a place people actually want to be. That doesn't mean you need an expensive spot with treadmill desks. Pick an awesome office space with a good vibe.

I want my company to constantly be creative, and our office space inspires that kind of thought. High ceilings, tall windows, old character, and a great downtown Boston location all boost our big ideas.

Our office space inspires creativity.
CREDIT: Courtesy author

Try hosting a low-cost quarterly company outing. My team had a blast with Escape the Room, a quirky game in which you race to solve puzzles to "escape" a locked room. We've also had board game nights with homemade margaritas.

On Fridays, we all make an effort to eat lunch together. It's amazing how you can have fun with coworkers through something as simple as eating together.

All of these tactics are hugely impactful, yet simple and inexpensive. Try them out and see how your team responds. You'll be glad you did.