Interview with Catherine Slattery, people and development manager, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin

Catherine Slattery, people and development manager at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, says good communication is the key to engaging a multicultural workforce with benefits

As far as workforces go, hotel chains have one of the most culturally diverse, flexible and transient set of employees to keep motivated and engaged. But with the help of its regional people and development manager, Catherine Slattery, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin scooped the prize for Most effective benefits strategy for organisations with more than 1,000 employees at this year’s Employee Benefits Awards in June.

Slattery says a major hurdle on the path to success was the task of communicating employee benefits, because one-third of the group’s workforce do not have English as their first language, with many contract workers coming from eastern European countries such as Poland.

Communications in Polish

During 2008, internal research suggested this group was underperforming in terms of engagement with benefits, leading the hotel chains to produce a set of communications and a series of online web screencasts in Polish. This led to a 60% increase in benefits engagement with the Polish-speaking workers.

“One of the reasons we won the award is that we have worked hard on communications,” says Slattery. “I feel I have been instrumental in that, to help make sure staff know what is on offer and take it up if it suits them.”

Slattery, who is one of the faces of the 2009 Employee Benefits Live advertising campaign, began her HR career at hospitality and leisure firm Mitchells and Butlers in 1997, working as a training, developing and resourcing manager, eventually specialising in opening up new premises and preparing staff to work in them. After progressing to acting HR manager in 2003, she became responsible for all general personnel duties, including running reward and recognition initiatives.

Training and development

At Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, which has a total of 27 hotels, Slattery is responsible for those located between Oxford and York. “A typical day consists of going to one of our hotels and either delivering something like training or development to the team or spending time with managers in each business,” she says. “I am very much a mobile worker. If I am spending too much time in the office or on a PC, it distracts me from what I am there for, which is speaking to people and helping them find solutions to problems.”

Slattery says her biggest challenge currently is trying to find ways of recognising and rewarding staff on a tight budget. “We have worked really hard as an employer to engage our teams in our brand identity and I think that hard work has really paid off.

Employees are brand loyal

“We have had to make changes within the business to help protect our profitability, but the wonderful thing is our employees have stayed with us because they are very brand loyal.”

Despite the hotel industry having a typical staff turnover rate of around 50%, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin boasts one that is half that figure. Initiatives such as ‘Housekeeper Olympics’ and a cook-off to find the company’s best chef make for a distinctive reward package. “Recognising the hardest-working departments in our business is fundamental to our reward strategy,” she says. “It would be cheaper not to do it, but in the long term it would be really foolish not to.”

Catherine Slattery will speak at Employee Benefits Live on 30 September 2009

Curriculum Vitae: Catherine Slattery

  • 2005-present regional people and development manager, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin Hotels
  • 2003-2004 acting HR manager, Mitchells and Butlers
  • 2000-2006 training, development and resourcing manager, Mitchells and Butlers • 1997-1999 assistant manager, Roundhay Fox, Mitchells and Butlers


  • What is your favourite benefit? I am a bit of a shopaholic, so the fun one for me is going on the retail discounts website. Our parent company owns Liberty department store, so there have been some great bargains.
  • Do you read management books? We have a book club at work. The one we are reading at the moment is about multi-unit leadership by Jim Sullivan. I love books that you can pick up and get hints and tips from quite quickly. Sullivan does that really well.
  • Do you have a role model? My manager, Sean Wheeler. He challenges me, supports me and never fails to inspire. Every time I have a one-to-one meeting with him, it is like getting an injection of motivation and enthusiasm. He will die of embarrassment hearing me say that.