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Organisational psychologist Aukje Nauta: ‘Take up a hobby’

Psychologist Aukje Nauta studies what makes people feel better in an organisation. For many, this ‘organisation’ is now the family; for those who live alone, this organisation has disappeared completely. What are the implications and how can a single person deal with possible problems?

Much has already been written about how to survive as a family in these times of corona, but little has been written about the many singles in society. Although colleagues don’t have to be friends, they do fulfil an important social role for working people. Working from home can cause feelings of social isolation, especially if all other group activities have been cancelled. ‘We are herd animals and extremely social,’ says Nauta.

Aukje Nauta
Aukje Nauta: ‘If you live alone, apathy can strike.’


‘If you live alone, work discipline can be more difficult,’ says Nauta, who herself lives alone. ‘How do you manage to concentrate and be productive? A daily routine is important. Stick to a set time for going to bed and getting up, as though you are going to work. After you shower, get dressed in clothes that you would wear to work, to get yourself into work mode. It’s tempting to stay in your pyjamas or dressing gown, but you don’t associate these with work. Make a list of what you want to do today. It’s no big deal if you can’t cross off everything at the end of the day. Don’t be annoyed with yourself. It’s not about being goal-oriented.’

Reward yourself

Breaks are also important, says Nauta. Time to push the reset button. ‘This could be by going for a walk or rewarding yourself – doing something that makes you happy.’ She knows people who get a kick from doing housework. ‘As a break, tidy out that cupboard. And if you don’t have a hobby, now’s the time to take one up.’ Nauta knows all about working from home. Alongside her professorship, she runs a consultancy together with a partner. The consultancy, Factor Vijf, focuses on sustaining employee engagement. The consultancy employs someone to answer the phone, manage diaries and maintain the website, but doesn’t have its own office, so the work is done at home. Nauta is now writing a book and rewards herself when she has finished another section.

Working from home for Nauta differs from working from home for many University staff members. ‘In a large organisation you are more dependent on one another. You are working together to bring the work to a successful conclusion, particularly with the teaching. That gives you more of a connection. It’s great that there are opportunities for meetings and lectures via the internet.’

From apathy to depression

‘Long live the internet,’ says Nauta. ‘There are so many programmes nowadays for keeping in touch with family and friends.’ But they’re not a magic solution. You can feel bored, socially isolated or apathetic and start to feel down or even depressed. ‘In families, there’s a greater chance of aggression. Family members are more likely to feel cornered and then it’s fight or flight. If the latter doesn’t work, it can turn into arguing or even fighting.’ [The police received considerably more reports of domestic violence, quarrels between neighbours and anti-social behaviour in the first week of the country working from home, ed.]

Internet can also be a source of distraction. ‘Turn the internet off from time to time. Good for concentration and productivity,’ says Nauta.

Ability to reflect

Fortunately, we humans have a valuable asset that can help us, says Nauta. We can reflect, look at ourselves. ‘Try to shake yourself out of apathy or gloominess,’ she says. ‘Do something nice that will help you snap out of it.’ Something that helps her is to give the day a mark. ‘It’s by no means always an 8; it can sometimes be a 6. I always look at why: why an 8? Why a 6? You learn from that. After a 6 you can think about how the next day could be an 8, or at least a 7.’

The issue of time

One last question: what about the issue of time? Suppose – and this is beginning to seem likely – this situation lasts for months. This is a question that Nauta can’t answer. ‘We have very little experience with this kind of isolation. I can see a great deal of creativity rising to the surface in people. That gives hope and should act as a counterweight.’

Text: Corine Hendriks
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