Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Perhaps you're resisting implementing our sexual harassment policy, and complying with legal standards). It's just so different from what the restaurant industry has known.
"Oh gosh, if we have physical boundaries in our restaurant, we'll have to police everything!" This is what you're thinking, isn't it? "We'll have to have a "sexual harassment" talk every other minute!"
The exact opposite is true. If you have strong boundaries, you have much less to deal with because people know what the rules are.
Let's say you're a manager at work, and you see two employees (who are friends) and one pats the other's butt (against your specified boundary). As a manager, it's good to reinforce your boundary, "Hey, professional environment, please." (Be a leader who's kind, but means it.) It's important to not let things slide, to acknowledge your intention, and to uphold a professional environment. In all of business, you don't want to let the small things begin to edge you back into bigger problems.
But remember the distinction -
If it's unwanted, it's harassment.
Strong physical boundaries are so good, because they keep an environment professional. They also protect people who DON'T want to be touched in a sexual manner by their coworker (and it's your legal responsibility to protect them). Sexual harassment is truly defined by unwanted behavior. For instance, if someone gets asked out multiple times by a coworker they're interested in or comfortable with, that is ok. If someone gets pursued aggressively at work by a coworker they're not interested in dating, then it's something that needs to be addressed.
Now let's say someone has less than good intentions, or gets a little too friendly. Maybe he doesn't even think it's inappropriate, but it makes his fellow employee feel trespassed on. Well that employee automatically knows that management has their back, that their boundary will be upheld (because in the sexual harassment policy you explained that), and they'll probably be able to handle it on their own. "Hey listen, that made me feel uncomfortable." If you're cultivating a respectful environment, that alone should bring change. (You want your employees to recognize that everyone has the right to physical boundaries, and they have to care how they impact each other.) If she feels the need to be more assertive, she can say, "If it happens again I'll have to involve a manager. It's against our policy." BOOM. Handled.
Sexual harassment is about how we make other people feel. If employees feel they are fundamentally empowered to maintain safety and dignity, it takes the power away from the aggressor and puts the power squarely into the consistency of a respectful environment for everyone.
Strong boundaries put power in the hands of solutions, and integrity.
If someone feels physically trespassed on (and really uncomfortable) they will involve management. GOOD. Good that that toxicity will be addressed and you can move forward. Good that your employee will feel valued and protected.
Problems arise when there are no rules. The same thing is true of relationships, when people don't understand the other person's expectations. Being boundary-less (e.g. seeing other people) might seem reasonable and logical for one person, while it might be an utter violation of trust for the other (who made an assumption). What happens when people aren't on the same page? PROBLEMS. ARGUMENTS. A LACK OF TRUST. HURT FEELINGS. MISUNDERSTANDINGS. DRAMA. TRESPASS.
Do you remember growing up, and knowing the rules. Maybe you even pushed them a little. Maybe even, one parent was more lenient than the other. But ultimately, (if you had healthy boundaries modeled to you) you knew what the rules were. Curfew was this time. Drinking and driving forbidden. Text if you're going to be late. Homework first. Life had consequences and structure. Being grounded. Ultimately, you knew what to navigate to.
When you have strong boundaries, you empower people to know the standards everyone's agreed to uphold. Some employees really have to learn about the need for consent, about communication, respect, and empathy for others; this will serve them for the rest of their lives. Knowing that no one has the right to touch a sexual part of a coworker's body is so powerful, because that standard can be relied upon when it needs to be. People have varied comfort levels, but for those employees who have less healthy intentions (or less awareness of social norms, or respecting someone else's space) our sexual harassment training gives them something to navigate to. It gives employees something to protect themselves with, and easily communicate about. It ends toxic silence, because you've empowered your employees to address whatever feels out of integrity.
Not only that, when you navigate to respect, people put their mental energy to better things. It's the same as it was in school. If your teacher let you walk all over them, the class was loud and disrespectful and you didn't learn much. Was it more "fun"? Maybe at the time you might have called it that. But perhaps you can recall being in another class with a strong teacher, who respected herself, respected you, and required her class to respect each other. You felt good being there, and you learned some things that had you really engaged. It made you contribute. And you became something more. That was better.