Oct. 14 (UPI) -- The personality traits of individual employees play a strong role in determining the success of workplace wellness programs designed to boost physical activity, a study published Wednesday by the journal PLOS ONE found.
Those identified as extroverted and motivated significantly improved their daily step counts by an average of 945 steps after participating in a competitive gamification program -- which uses elements of game playing to encourage engagement -- but did not sustain these gains over a 12-week period, the data showed.
Conversely, gamification programs generated 1,100- to 1,200-step improvements in introverted and less motivated study participants that they sustained over the 12 weeks they were monitored, the researchers said.
"This suggests that ongoing incentives and reminders may be necessary to sustain motivation for some groups of people," study co-author Dr. Shirley Chen, an assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, said in a statement.
Workplace wellness programs have become increasingly popular as employers seek to improve staff health and well-being. However, recent studies have suggested that they offer limited benefits.
The study by Chen and her colleagues is a follow-up to the 2019 analysis of the STEP UP program, which aimed to increase the step counts of roughly 600 Deloitte professionals classified as being either obese or overweight over a period of six months.
In the STEP UP program, personalized daily step counts were established for each participant, but they were then randomly funneled into four different groups: one that just gave the participants their goals and a step tracker, and three others that mixed in different forms of nudges that were "gamified" using a point system, the researchers said.
For the new analysis, they divided participants into different classifications of certain psychological and behavioral characteristics that the researchers called "phenotypes."
Study participants completed surveys to help researchers identify personality types and social support needs, according to Chen.
The phenotypes that emerged were "more extroverted and more motivated," which made up 54% of study participants and "less active and less social," which was 20%, the researchers said. The remaining participants -- 25% -- were classified as "less motivated and at-risk."
The participants then were assigned to one of three gamification programs -- supportive, collaborative or competitive.
In the supportive program, participants were asked to identify a friend or family member who encouraged them and received weekly reports on their progress.
Participants in the collaborative program were placed into teams of three and a designated member was selected each day to represent them in their step activity.
Participants in the competitive program were assigned into teams of three and received a weekly "leader-board" email to foster competition.
Although more extroverted and motivated participants in the competitive program saw an uptick in step counts, these same gains were not seen among those in the collaborative or supportive programs, the researchers said.
In addition, gains were not sustained over 12 weeks of follow-up, they said.
However, participants classified as "less active and less social" saw step count improvements ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 in all three programs -- and these increases were maintained over the 12-week follow-up period, according to the researchers.
Conversely, those in the "less motivated and at-risk" group had no improvement during the study, the researchers said.
"A one-size-fits-all approach to nudging new behaviors within wellness programs can have limited success," study co-author Dr. Mitesh Patel, director of the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, said in a statement.
"We've shown that different forms of nudging can be effective, and in this latest study ... we've now demonstrated that matching nudges to the right behavior profiles can unlock their full potential," Patel said.