Dine Brands' new parental leave policy was employees' idea

The perk for new parents came from Women at Dine, one of the company’s staff resource groups. “The idea made great sense,” said new Chief People Officer Sarah Cannon-Foster.
New parents on Dine's corporate staff can now work remotely for 90 days after their paid leave ends. | Photo courtesy of Dine Brands

Last week, Applebee’s and IHOP parent Dine Brands announced a new policy for corporate employees with newborn babies. After their regular paid leave is up, they’ll be able to work remotely for an additional 90 days to help them ease back into work.

The Parent Transition Program is one of the company’s first big HR initiatives under new Chief People Officer Sarah Cannon-Foster, who joined Dine in April after nearly seven years at Walgreens Boots Alliance. But it was not her idea. Instead, it came from Women at Dine, one of the company’s six “member resource groups” for corporate employees. 

“It was a real example of what happens when you have a team member resource group like ours that felt the ability to come forward with an idea,” Cannon-Foster said in an interview. “And the idea made great sense.”

Sarah Cannon-Foster

Sarah Cannon-Foster worked for Walgreens and Starwood Hotels before joining Dine. | Photo courtesy of Dine Brands

Cannon-Foster has now been with the restaurant franchisor for about 100 days and said she has spent much of that time gathering feedback from employees, including those resource groups. Some of their ideas have already been turned into policy.

Dine Young Professionals, for instance, worked with leaders to change Dine’s tuition reimbursement policy. Participants can now start getting reimbursed on day one of their employment rather than one year after their start date, as is typical with most tuition reimbursement programs. 

And Dine Out With Friends, Dine’s LGBTQ+ resource group, worked with Dine’s legal team to make sure company policies and other materials use inclusive language. 

Cannon-Foster said other companies she’s worked for have had similar employee groups, but the key difference at Dine is that they’re voluntary.

“None of these are mandated,” she said. “These are all organic.” 

There are also groups for Asian, Latinx and Black corporate employees. And they are quite popular. Group events are typically attended by an average of 100 staffers, or about 20% of Dine’s total corporate headcount. That tells Cannon-Foster that employees are finding value in them. 

Restaurants’ hiring and retention struggles have been well-publicized over the past several years. But Cannon-Foster said labor problems have not been as acute at the corporate level. 

“Certainly at the corporate offices, we have found there to be quite a bit of engagement,” she said. Still, she acknowledged that the pandemic did raise the bar for what workers expect out of a job these days.

“I think that in general, employers have found that they are upping their game in terms of how they attract and retain talent,” she said.

Asked what Dine has done to up its game, Cannon-Foster pointed back to the resource groups, which she said help build trust between employees and leadership. “When you have trust, that enables risk,” she said.

For instance, while many companies are pushing for staff to return to the office full-time, Pasadena, Calif.-based Dine has maintained a hybrid policy that requires employees to work on-site just nine days a month. “We’re finding that exceeded in many cases,” Cannon-Foster said, “but we’re providing that level of flexibility.” 

Employees seem to appreciate these efforts. A survey of Dine corporate staff this year found that 82% think Dine is a great place to work, compared to 57% at a typical U.S. company, according to Dine. Another 91% said they felt welcomed when they joined the company. The results were collected as part of Dine’s certification as a Great Place to Work. 

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