This article accompanies HR Problem Solvers for 2010 .
When the recession hit Boston with a budget shortfall, some of the city's more-than-17,000 employees were laid off while unions representing the majority were asked by the mayor to participate in a year-long wage freeze.
Around the same time, in early 2009, the city received a $200,000 grant from the Living Cities Association in New York to help with programs where needed. Thanks to that grant, Vivian Leonard, director of human resources for the City of Boston, was invited to help brainstorm where the money -- $11,500 of which went to the Office of Human Resources -- could be best spent.
What she came up with was a simple and direct response to the needs of those hardest hit: primarily the city's lower-salaried workers. Knowing, as she says, "that the people who are really suffering tend to suffer in silence," Leonard and her staff launched a year-long program entitled "Strengthen Your Financial Future: Living Cities Employee Financial Fitness Program" to help financially educate, counsel and coach both laid-off workers and those impacted by family members' layoffs.
The key, she says, was to get the information out there about how to solve their problems and where to go for help, "so they could follow up and no one would have to know."
To date, more than 300 employees have participated in 16 sessions -- everything from maintaining good credit to buying a car or a home. The program is a good reminder, Leonard says, "that when problems like this come along, [HR leaders really can] bring something to the table to help solve them."
City of Boston
Read all of the 2010 HR Problem Solvers.