Navigating an Internship during Lockdown



The Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology in South Africa (SIOPSA) hosted three online focus group sessions with a group of over 94 Interns which included 14 supervisors sharing the space. The objective was to discuss their experiences of completing an unstructured (tailored) internship during lockdown. The session allowed for open dialogue between participants regarding the difficulties and opportunities lockdown has presented. Participants were also asked to share some practical examples of how they were gaining exposure for their internship programme during lockdown. All examples shared in this article stem directly from the selfless contributions made by the focus group participants. Thank you for your
willingness to participate and collaborate.




The experience was very positive for most participants as it allowed opportunity to engage and participate in a small group discussion, presented a platform to reflect, and created a networking occassion and a learning experience.


“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”




Various questions and concerns were raised regarding approval of programs during lockdown and also what learning experiences would be acceptable by the HPCSA. The HPCSA has confirmed and communicated that business continues and as far as practical, submissions will be considered and reviewed at online meetings. As far as work experience and learning is concerned, supervisors must guide program content. In some instances, the mode of delivery may be different than originally planned but a number of learning experiences (e.g. in assessment, coaching, personnel psychology etc.) could still be concluded during lockdown. However, the quality of the learning embedded, and ethics must be maintained and specifically reflected on in the quarterly reports. Webinars and other online learning events should enhance (and not replace) the experiential learning process.




It was evident that the emotional experience of lockdown weighed heavily on interns and supervisors, noting positive emotional experiences as well as challenges with fear, uncertainty and dealing with ambiguity. Supervisors echoed their concern about their interns heightened emotional state, which was collectively attributed to the overall uncertainty and ambiguity. There was a collective vulnerability shared, but also some felt hopeful and encouraged by new opportunities this experience of lockdown has presented. Overall people have become more deliberate in reflecting and the new remote working brought new innovative ways of working and collaborating. Participants highlighted how resilience helped them move forward while agility allowed them to create new solutions and ways of being. There were however accounts from both interns and supervisors, who felt paralyzed and stuck and the focus group created a portal toward renewed focus and energy toward the completion of their program.


Boundary management as a theme highlighted the tightrope of navigating work life balance but also navigating through new role requirements (e.g. homeschooling) while working at home. Some Interns working in HR teams were also pulled into greater HR tactical responsibilities required during lockdown and had to put some Internship focused projects/ initiatives on hold, creating frustration and fear of delays in completion.



The participants shared how they have coped but also what they have done to make this situation
work for them in their internship journey. This section highlights some of the ideas shared.


Continued professional development

There are ample opportunities to continue learning via online platforms, but the key is to ensure reflection on the application of the learning content in practice. Resources shared included:

  • U-demy/ LinkedIn learning/
  • Internship relevant SIOPSA webinars
  • Accreditation for various Psychometric assessments are now available online
  • Active reflection: Design and implement employee de-brief post lockdown. Record your experiences and ethical dilemmas experienced



Networking is a critical skill that any emerging professional must acquire. During this time however, there are opportunities and some shared during the session included:

  • Connecting on existing WhatsApp groups and/or create a new group with your university intern group
  • Find a buddy. Newly registered IOP’s make for excellent buddies as they are freshly emerged from this process
  • Get involved in SIOPSA branch network and/or interest groups. Take up opportunities to volunteer
  • Find a mentor that is not your supervisor
  • Link up with professionals specializing in the competency areas where you need exposure


Internship program- online

Various insightful examples were shared on how to continue with your internship program using online platforms. 

These are summarized below.

Employee relations and labour law

  • Spend some time reading Labour Regulations and Laws and inspecting whether your organisation is on board with these
  • Design a Crisis & COVIC-19 policy for the organisation
  • Translate legislation for implementation e.g. occupational health and safety policies
  • Explore how State of Disaster impacts employment legislation and employee rights (Labour Net is a good resource to utilise here)

Employee wellness

  • Distribute weekly wellness posts to employees; design wellness/engagement questionnaires to distribute and construct possible interventions from results; create presentations exploring concepts such as mindfulness, resilience at work, coping with stress.
  • Make wellness groups more fun and exciting e.g. do interesting assessment before like foot scans* for “diagnosis.” “People were keen in my organization to participate in these”. (* Foot scanning is a free service that will capture everything you want to know about arch type, pronation, pressure points and sizing)
  • Develop a Resilience Program
  • Implement virtual catch-ups to keep employees connected
  • Use tools like Org pulse survey to assess and check in, with key focus being on their well being
  • Design a wellness or employee engagement questionnaire which could be distributed during and post lockdown to assess employee moral; use results to design initiatives to build employee morale and engagement (e.g. to send out wellness presentations to employees each week; to initiate fitness groups; to initiate groups where moms/dads could share ideas on home schooling)
  • Creating a workplace bullying questionnaire/program
  • Prepare a presentation on mindfulness: prepare a few questions to pose to employees and include valid literature
  • Develop presentation/ document on how to manage negative emotions
  • Reflect on what you (IOP) can do to assist your organisation to manage well-being

Professional development

  • Using this time to write up the literature reviews within your programme, by reading articles and doing research elements
  • Some examples:
  1. The gravitation away from paper and pencil testing to online assessments and gamification elements
  2. Create or identify a problem scenario and write an article about the intervention and the pitfalls attached to it
  3. Workplace Psychopathology and the role of the IOP in identifying effective interventions and referral processed to guide EAP’s

Organizational development

  • Positioning the important role of IOPs during COVID-19 and their contribution to OD and Change management practices
  • Developing the role of ethics and IOP’s in emergency situations
  • Design team building activities which can be done on Zoom/ virtually (exploring how we can get people comfortable) and combat popularized aspects such as ‘zoom fatigue’)
  • Adapt practices from change management to managing change. Suggested to use Dr Natasha Winkler’s PhD “Forced unplanned change” as literature to reinforce learnings
  • Write up how COVID-19 affected your workplace, apply IOP principles and incorporate a change management model as a solution to managing this change. Reflect on the barriers experienced throughout the change model applied, and its utility in future crisis.

Personnel Psychology

  • Revisit recruitment process: e.g. interview guides; on-boarding content etc. Design your own employment contract or service level agreement as an IOP service provider
  • Use simulated data to create HR interventions (e.g. performance and talent management)
  • Conduct supervised career counselling sessions online
  • Design and/ or review L&D interventions
  • Create process flows that inform job profiles and supporting training material
  • Explore how technology can optimise people engagement and processes in your workplace/ team
  • Review work from home opportunities for your org/ team in terms of policy/ process/capacity/ leadership
  • Explore how to measure/ manage performance, output and recognition virtually
  • Explore what an ideal organisational culture looks like that facilitates virtual collaboration and assess your org/team’s readiness for virtual collaboration
  • Document or review the positioning of the IOP role during crisis and their contribution to OD and change
  • Reflect on how lockdown may affect the way in which work is allocated in an organisation (e.g. interns distributed a survey asking employees to indicate how much time they require for assisting their children; resource access such as data and personal laptops)
  • Contingency and scenario-planning for future lockdowns
  • Restructuring of businesses to offer services virtually e.g. hosting people in smaller groups vs one big group and breaking up the sessions into a series instead of once off sessions
  • Create an upskilling programme to stimulate learning. Should connectivity be an issue than you could consider using WhatsApp as a tool of distribution
  • Creating a multidisciplinary Task Team for COVID-19 at your workplace: Your role could be for e.g. re-integrating returning employees
  • Converting face to face training to online training, e.g. online leadership program design
  • Develop a training guide and facilitator guide (include exercises; questionnaire; video)
  • Developed new topics for Covid-19: e.g. how to respond to uncertain situation; team building exercises/ compliance-based training noting the different lockdown stage requirements
  • Changing the way we do things by creating learning and development programme with other supervisors, e.g. how to host a webinar

Career and general counseling

  • Identify and arrange recorded interviews with IOP’s who specialize in this field, to gain in-depth knowledge
  • Be pro-active, find individuals who would benefit from career guidance and get feedback from your Supervisor
  • Link-up with your university if you are struggling to ‘find the hours’, which usually offer career counselling services at Student Services, as well as further specialized counselling (i.e. HIV-counselling)
  • Create a programme for how to train leaders to work virtually and to manage their own anxiety
  • Focus on trauma counselling: literature reviews and application for IOP’s and how to collaborate with Social workers and other categories of Psychologists

Career and general counseling

  • Reflect on the ethical dilemma of infringing on people’s right to freedom and freedom of movement as you force them into lockdown
  • Reflect on the ethical implications of managing employee information, based on their medical background (i.e. profiling employees based on their physical health, co-morbidities and age) and the possible future discrimination that may occur when moving through different stages of the epidemic
  • Document the legal and ethical considerations one must take into account when utilising online platforms in IOP-practice and the considerations required (i.e. informed consent, confidentiality, maintaining professional rigour)
  • Reflect on the competing and complementary system of the ethical rules prescribed for Healthcare Practitioners and the ethical rules followed by Business
  • Explore the sanctions that psychologists have been held accountable for on the HPCSA’s website
  • Develop an ethical decision-making model
  • Weekly online ethic workshops which could also be used as board exam preparation: Interns could develop a framework for ethical situations; case studies could be submitted to review and discuss; registered psychologist could be invited to provide insights
  • Keeping an emotions diary (personal coaching) and aspects of work which challenged the ethical guidelines for psychologists during the lockdown period
  • Reflect on the ethical dilemma of infringing on people’s right to freedom and freedom of movement as you force them into lockdown

Assessments and Psychometrics

  • Case study – Providing new business solution to recruitment process: exploring online/mobile assessments, virtual interviews and assessment centers, accompanying policy reviews
  • Create a psychometry Masterclass, including best practice for giving candidate and management feedback
  • Perform supervised mock assessments with other interns or colleagues
  • Revisit competency frameworks and bring in EQ into the development plans
  • Construct or convert a Development center online. “Once we tested it, the interns conducted the virtual DC. The interns also focused on how to provide feedback virtually –the interns completed mock feedback under supervision”.
  • Explore the benefits of different virtual platforms to conduct supervised assessments, and further explore whether these platforms are covered by the Professional Indemnity Insurance

This is an output of a SIOPSA event. 2020 . Non-Profit Registration Number – 042-531-NPO, VAT
Registration Number – 4740206620 Physical Address – Centurion, Southdowns Ridge Office Park, John
Vorster Drive, Centurion, Pretoria, 0157