Most leaders know that highly engaged teams outperform poorly engaged teams by 22 percent. And most leaders know that people who are happier at work are at least 12 percent more productive than those who are not. (I suspect that number is even higher.)

But how do you boost your team's morale during the darker days of winter?

Good question.

Here are some answers.

Encourage your employees to start planning their vacations now.

A study from Applied Research in Quality of Life shows that the process of planning and anticipating a trip can make you happier than actually taking it. As the study's author says, "The practical lesson for an individual is that you derive most of your happiness from anticipating the holiday trip."

But don't stop there. Remind your employees now -- not in late summer, when it's often too late -- that you want them to use their vacation. (If you need a practical reason to encourage them to take vacation time, one study estimates that the U.S. economy would have been boosted by over $220 billion if every employee used all their time off.)

That way they not only get the happiness boost from planning and anticipating their vacation, they also see that their personal well-being and happiness is important to you.

And don't stop there, either. Model the behavior you wish your employees to display. Start planning your own vacation.

After all, as a leader what you do will always carry more weight than what you say.

Encourage your employees to take (real) sick days.

Some of your best employees are great at least in part due to their instinctive reaction to take one for the team. When extra work needs to be done, they step up. When a customer is up, they step in.

And when they feel sick... they come to work.

Your employees will only care about you -- and your business -- after they know you care about them. Often, people feel guilty about not coming in to work.

You need to tell them it's okay. Send the employee who is under the weather home. Encourage the employee feeling poorly to stay home.

And model that behavior: When you're sick, stay home. That will give your employees "permission" to do so when they should.

Encourage your team to stay active.

Exercise is known to make you feel happier, keeps you healthier, increases energy levels, and helps you sleep better. The benefits are endless.

Encourage your team to stay active and get some exercise. To get this going at FreeLogoServices, we started an Exercise Board, casually referred to as #FitGoals. It's a whiteboard we use to set exercise goals and track our progress.

Our goals cover a range of ambitions. I'm trying to get my heart rate above 160 at least three times a week. Others want to hit the gym at least four times a week. One team member tries to reach 7,000 steps each day. Our VP of product is just trying to "go to the gym and stop being lazy."

There's no pressure to set ambitious goals. But once the goals are set, we try to support (and sometimes tease) each other to hit them.

Encourage your employees to take a few risks.

Same (stuff), different day is a morale killer. So is feeling like your ideas, your perspectives, and your experience are not important.

Here's an easy way to correct that situation: Encourage your employees to take smart risks -- even if those risks might not pay off.

Encourage them to devise a few tests. Encourage them to experiment with a new approach. Encourage them to try something -- anything -- that they've always wanted to try.

Some will pan out. Many won't. But you won't know until you try.

Either way, by encouraging smart risk taking you've also shown -- not just said, but shown -- that you trust your employees. Autonomy and independence are the foundation of engagement and job satisfaction. People care more about outcomes when they make the decisions that lead to those outcomes. People care more when they feel empowered to try something they think may work.

Want to cut through the winter blues? Give your employees the opportunity to spice up their workdays by taking a few risks.

Your company may benefit -- but their morale definitely will.

Published on: Feb 27, 2018