Two contrasting views tend to dominate the literature on the impact of recessions on employment. One view is that recessions amount to a ‘critical conjuncture’ for work and employment systems, a time when firms try to transform radically existing employment models. The alternative perspective is that firms, constrained mostly by the forces of path dependency, seek to adjust to the immediate or short-term pressures of the recession but otherwise maintain the established way of organizing the employment relationship. The purpose of this article is to contribute to this literature by reporting the findings of a major study of the effects of the recession on work and employment in firms based in Ireland. The main finding to emerge from the study is that firms mostly have made improvised adaptations in response to the crisis and have shied away from far-reaching transformational strategies.