Drawing on institutional theory, this paper advances understanding of how restructuring practices are shaped by the organisational and institutional context and the concerns for legitimacy. Longitudinal case study findings from UK local government suggest a pattern of incremental deviance where repeated cutbacks are legitimised through a narrative of continuous improvement. This results in increased labour flexibility, work intensity and managerialism within services. We argue that the lack of resistance to change can be explained by the steady desensitisation of workers to repeated cutbacks as opposed to the inherent fairness of management actions. Through context-specific research the theoretical and empirical distinctions between responsible and pure restructuring, and soft and hard Human Resource Management policies, are challenged.