When Sue Downs's husband promoted her, other employees in the department grumbled. But the Downses' boss, Philip Reed, says the contributions of working couples who are dealt with thoughtfully can outweigh the challenges.

Reed inherited 103 employees and two working spouses when he bought SkyStar, a Nampa, Idaho, kit-aircraft manufacturer, and he added two employees' wives who had worked well with their husbands elsewhere.

Before hiring the spouses, Reed spent several hours with each wife and husband separately, asking them to analyze their working relationship. How would they handle personal disputes or charges of favoritism? What if one spouse performed badly? He warned them that if things didn't work out, he'd assign the partners to different departments or let one go.

Reed keeps communication open and acts as referee. When others in Downs's department voiced their concerns to Reed, he reviewed the promotion criteria with them and asked them to give Downs a chance. She quickly proved her abilities, and no one has complained since.

The greatest risk, says Reed, is that one partner, anxious to avoid favoritism, will be extracritical of the other. To prevent that, Reed checks performance reviews.

All that takes more of Reed's time. So why does he bother? He says spouses can work more efficiently together because they know each other so well. After two years one husband and wife have been promoted, and another couple has tripled the size of the division the husband runs. -- Phaedra Hise

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