Boston — When Jim N. heard about the promotion, he thought his wife would be happy about the move that accompanied his new assignment. After all, his salary would jump and the transfer was from a depressed industrial center to Minneapolis, a city known for being a pleasant place to live.
But Jim made the move alone. His wife decided she did not want to reestablish her real estate career in a new city.
To help lessen emotional and economic challenges related to moving, a small but growing number of companies are providing job-finding help to spouses of transferred workers. Some, like Baxter Travenol Laboratories Inc. and the Prudential Insurance Company of America, have in-house programs. Others, like International Business Machines, will pay for the services of outside job counseling firms. The number of companies providing job assistance to spouses is expected to grow as dual-career families become even more common.
''It is a very needed service due to the influence of spouses'' in determining whether a transfer will be accepted, says C. William Hartge, chief executive officer of Equitable Relocation Service.
Still, aid for spouses is offered by a relatively small fraction of US corporations. According to a 1982 survey of 610 large companies by Merrill Lynch Relocation Management Inc., 25 percent of the companies now provide job assistance for spouses, up from 23 percent last year. By contrast, 77 percent of the companies surveyed pay brokerage costs when an employee sells his home.
But the trend toward more assistance for spouses is expected to grow. ''More and more women are entering the job market in a professional capacity, and that presents much more of a problem'' for corporations moving families, says John Moore, executive vice-president of Merrill Lynch Relocation.
''I don't think companies are going to have a choice,'' said a relocation assistance manager who asked not to be identified. ''The change in families and in society is going to make it necessary.''
Most of the spouses receiving aid are wives. One reason is that only 5 pecent of the employees who were moved in 1981 were women. Then, too, ''the decision to move is based on who has the highest income and most potential,'' Mr. Moore notes. And wives working full time account for an average 40 percent of total family income, according to government statistics.
At companies offering aid to spouses, ''the most common program is to work with the personnel manager at the new location to allow spouses to use what network of contacts he might have,'' says Chris Collie, executive director of the Employee Relocation Council, which studies relocation issues for major corporations.
At Prudential, for example, the company's informal spouse aid program provides mates with ''lists of companies in the area that are hiring or lists of other companies that may have jobs similar to the one'' the employee now holds, a spokeswoman for the insurer said.
Sometimes companies decide that spouse assistance can be better handled by employment firms. Since April, for instance, American Telephone & Telegraph's Long Lines Division has used four outside firms to research major employers and market conditions for spouses. The companies also analyze the spouses' potential in the market, assist with resume preparation, and design and help carry out a marketing strategy, according to Vincent Riccioli, the Long Lines personnnel supervisor. The response from spouses who have used the program ''has been excellent,'' he says.
In the context of other moving expenses, the cost of spouse aid is a relatively small-ticket item. Fees paid to outside firms, including Right Associates and Careerscope, both in New York, vary from $500 to $2,000 per case, depending on the amount of help an individual needs, Mr. Riccioli says. At companies that transfer between 25 and 99 workers a year, the total cost of an average move is $27,450.
The telephone company unit also operates a program to help refer spouses with move-related emotional problems to sources of appropriate help.
IBM is an example of a company that ties the level of assistance to whether or not the spouse is employed by IBM. If a wife already works there and her husband is asked to move, the wife ''is moved to the top of the placement list to be hired'' at the new location, says IBM spokesman Brian Ditzler.
If at the new location the IBM-employed wife decides to look for a position outside the company, the information processing company will pay up to $500 in job counseling or placement fees.
Assistance is somewhat less generous for spouses who do not work at IBM. ''We will consider their emplpoyment application, but not in any priority manner,'' Mr. Ditzler says. Such spouses are, however, eligible for the $500 counseling and placement fee reimbursement available to spouses employed by IBM.
The computermaker decided to offer the fee reimbursement plan to both groups of spouses this spring ''in recognition of the increasing number of dual-career families in the work force,'' the IBM spokesman says.
Personnel officials say the spouse assistance plans do present some problems. ''One problem is, you have to be careful about building expectations too high. You can't guarantee everyone a job,'' says a relocation assistance manager.
But she adds that companies ''can help support spouses and guide them and help them package themselves.'' What spouse aid programs contain Help find job with other companies 77% Refer to employment agencies 70% Offer informal counseling sessions 60% Help prepare resumes 47% Help find job in the company 42% Pay for resume preparation 21% Offer counseling with outside experts 20% Reimburse for extra job-hunting trip 11% Pay employment agency fee 10% Source: Merrill Lynch Reclocation Management Inc.