As a wellness professional, you may choose to join a professional association for many reasons. It may be because you want to stay up to date on current information, stay engaged in the profession, and perhaps earn some continuing education credit. As the wellness profession matures, it is important that our professional associations also mature as they continue advancing their mission to educate, mentor, and elevate the field. After working for a professional association with a long history of promoting wellness worldwide, there are a few questions I suggest wellness professionals consider asking when deciding which association will deliver the professional development experience they need and maintain the credibility of the wellness industry as a whole:
- How does your association set quality standards for their education, certification, and content marketing programs? Or, what best-practices does your association follow in these areas?
- How does your association demonstrate accountability to stakeholders?
- How does your association’s organizational and leadership practices foster a culture of wellness?
Professional associations serve as thought leaders in the profession and are often key stakeholders in developing industry-wide standards that guide higher education, certification and continuing education programs. When joining a wellness association, it is important that its leaders are either involved with setting standards or following established national standards and best-practices. For instance, if your association offers certification programs, you may want to ask if they are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) to ensure the program meets the highest standards in the certification industry. Or, if you plan to attend their conferences or training programs, you may want to ask if they use a peer-review process for training content, blind reviews for conference session selection, and have visible conflict of interest disclosures for presenters. Finally, does your wellness association have quality standards for the information they post on social media? The internet is full of spurious claims and dubious research, which is why many of us turn to our professional association to help us sort out the “click bait” and find credible resources. Therefore, it is important that wellness associations have quality standards and avoid sharing questionable media stories or research articles as part of their content marketing strategy under the guise of providing you up to date and credible information.
We may assume that if our wellness association is teaching us about worksite wellness, that they are probably the epitome of a well organization. But what if that is not the case and your wellness association is organizationally unwell? Since many wellness associations are in the business of educating professionals about standards, practices and ethics in worksite wellness, the wellness association has an obligation to act as a role model in this area. Does the Executive Director consume fast food for lunch everyday, ignoring personal, community, and environmental health? Do board members routinely serve their entire term or resign early because of internal incivility? Do staff feel their work is meaningful and valued by the organization or do they just show up for the paycheck? You may not be able to find answers to questions like these, but inquiring more about the organization’s leadership practices and wellness programming, or gauging their response to a suggestion that they include employee wellness metrics in their annual report might provide some insight on the extent to which they “walk the walk.” The culture of an organization has ripple effects on the quality of products, services, and support it is ultimately able to provide for its members or customers.
As professionals, we need to ensure that our professionals associations are transparent and accountable to stakeholders. Many wellness associations are not-for-profit entities and enjoy a public appearance of honesty and integrity. However, without access to their annual reports and outcome evaluations, how can we know for certain that they are being fiscally responsible and actually meeting their stated mission and objectives? Professional associations, especially those with non-profit status, should have items such as their bylaws, board minutes, and annual reports that include financials publicly available on their website. If you cannot find these items on their website, your wellness association may not be able to demonstrate that it is serving your needs or making a meaningful impact on your career development. Asking questions about your wellness organization’s evaluation processes and transparency protocols ensure that you can be confident your organization is providing value and achieving its goals with donor and tax-exempt monies rather than spending thousands dollars on golf outings and family trips for the Executive Director.
Wellness associations offer many valuable resources and programs to support professionals in making a difference each day. However, if our wellness associations are not being held accountable, how can we ensure the wellness profession and industry as a whole are operating at the highest standard? This begins by ensuring that our wellness associations truly walk the walk of wellness by following best-practices in educational programming, being transparent and accountable to members and consumers, and creating thriving organizational cultures within their own organization. We can nudge our profession in this direction by asking these type of questions before joining a wellness organization or attending their educational programs.