What working at Cuvva has taught me about mental health

Raisa, one of our hardworking Customer Support team members, lifts the lid on burnout, the importance of company culture, and finding time to prioritise your own mental health.
By Team member, 01/06/2022
5 minutes read

As a late teen, like many late teens, I spent my formative years in a minimum wage retail/hospitality job trying to get myself through university. It was my first ever real job and therefore my introduction into the world of work. I spent every weekend standing at a hotel reception, answering phone calls, checking people in.

All I can think about now is, as a seventeen-year-old, interviewing at that hotel, I had no idea what I was signing up for.

I come from an immigrant household, so nobody in my immediate vicinity had a job outside of retail. Nobody got paid sick leave, nobody earned a salary, and I was only ever taught to survive at any cost. Surviving for many immigrant families and children of immigrants means bringing money home, paying rent, and putting food on the table - no matter what the consequences are.

So, let’s break down what the world of work was like for a young me: I had a 16 hour contract (eight hours on Saturday, eight hours on Sunday, working from 7am-3pm) which was perfect for a university student with slight perfectionist tendencies. It was the ideal job - I didn’t have to fold clothes like most of my friends, and I could still make it home in time to catch up with any uni work.

The reality of working:

Here was the reality of working at my old job:

  • I would do eight hour shifts on my feet with no breaks. I worked in a pretty busy hotel with 600 rooms and two receptionists on shift, and sometimes it would get so busy neither of us would have time to step away from reception to sit down. We would often grab a leftover croissant from breakfast and eat behind reception, literally stepping into the office to take one bite between check-ins.
  • We would do back-to-back shifts. The shift pattern at the hotel was 7am-3pm / 3pm-11pm / 11pm-7am. When I signed my contract, I was under the impression that I would always do morning shifts; nobody told me about “back to back shifts”. Nobody mentioned that I would start at 3pm, finish at 11pm, and then come back at 7am for the next shift. If you’re a bit under-skilled at maths like I am, let me save you the trouble: That gives us 8 hours to get home, go to sleep, wake up, and get back to the hotel for another 8 hours on our feet.
  • Nobody took sick days. We didn’t get paid time off; we got paid hourly so any non-holiday time off came straight out of our own payslips. Everyone working at the hotel was financially troubled in one way or another - if they weren’t a student, they were a single parent with two jobs, or they spoke broken English etc. Nobody had the privilege of calling in sick when they were physically sick, let alone when their problems were mental health related.
  • We were pretty much constantly burnt out. If that wasn’t already obvious. Everyone had pretty heavy lives outside of the hotel, only to have all their stresses exacerbated inside the hotel, whether that was through abusive customers, or just physical exhaustion from working 16 hours in a 24 hour period.

So why did I stay at that hotel for four years? Easy. Because I thought this was normal.

The world of work

This was my understanding of the world of work. Everyone around me had pretty similar horror stories; my mum and brother also worked in retail, all of my friends worked at retail (hell, one of my best friends worked at the hotel with me). And to be honest, I was the lucky one in the hotel, because this job was never going to be my forever job. I was simply paying my dues. My managers knew from the second I got this job at seventeen, that I would leave once I’ve got my degree.

Except come summer 2021, freshly (kinda) graduated with a first in my degree, I was dreading the idea of getting a full time job. My friends were enjoying the summer of their lives, but I had picked up extra shifts at the hotel, and I was hating every second of it. If I thought it was difficult to work sixteen hours, working forty hours a week was a losing battle. I would come home exhausted every single day. I’d been about a month into my adult life and I was ready to give up. This can’t be the rest of my life. How do people do it?

Coming to Cuvva

Fast forward a few months later: it’s late summer and everyone around me was settling back into reality, whether that meant they went back into uni, settled into graduate schemes or just got new jobs altogether. Adult life was coming hard and fast, and I was nowhere near ready to end my summer.

That’s when my best friend got a new work-from-home job at this company called “Cuvva”. The company had all these cool benefits like a wellbeing allowance, work socials, sick days etc. He said they were still hiring and after a referral, several weeks worth of interviews (and then a few more weeks of training), I was officially a COp at Cuvva.

I was still a little anxious about my first proper full time job - I saw the toll the hotel took on my colleagues, and even temporarily experienced it firsthand. I’d pretty much accepted a while back that I was not made for full-time work life, so how was this company going to make me feel any different?

And at the start, I didn’t feel any different, because I worked at Cuvva exactly how I worked at the hotel. I wouldn’t call in sick if I needed to, I would swap shifts with anyone who asked even if it was to my detriment, I would try to balance Intercom with things I should’ve been doing during catch-up time, and I found myself getting burnt out pretty quickly.

What working at Cuvva has taught me about mental health

It took me a while to realise that how you feel about a company has a lot to do with the work culture. Every company has a culture, I just didn’t know this until I had something to compare the hotel one to.

It wasn’t until my line manager started encouraging me to prioritise my own mental health that I even recognised this as an option. I was told that procrastinating on prioritising my mental health is only detrimental in the long term, and it doesn’t just affect me. I was told to start actually spending my wellbeing allowance on myself, on taking care of me - whether that was on a new pair of glasses, or on a gym membership, or therapy. And I was told to sign up for a Sanctus session if I needed to, because at least I’ll have someone to talk to about my mental health.

I then realised that the reason I wasn’t taking care of myself at the hotel was because nobody else was - it became part of the company culture. But this isn’t Cuvva’s culture.

This was all incredibly different to the world of work I knew. We never spoke about burn out, mostly because it was such a constant feeling we didn’t recognise it as any different to our everyday routine. We didn’t take a breather if we were overwhelmed, because there was no time to take a step back.

My journey to this point, to my current relationship with my mental health, hasn’t been perfect. Working on Intercom means avoiding burnout is pretty much impossible. No matter what your resources, you’ll always have that one customer that pushes you too far, or that one day where coverage was bad. But I can recognise that I’m doing better, because the culture here is better. It’s not perfect, but it’s taught me to start working towards something better, and I can only hope the company culture only continues to prioritise mental health from here.

Reach out for help:

If you struggle to prioritise your mental health like I once did, here are some useful links:

Team member