The present study aimed to shed light on the role of satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence in the recovery process during free evening hours. We examined to what extent (1) need satisfaction during free evening hours contributed to employees' recovery status before bedtime and (2) employees' recovery status at the end of the workday affected their subsequent need satisfaction. Vigour and (low) anxiety were included as indicators of recovery. Data were collected by means of a 5-day daily diary study (two measurements daily: at the end of the workday and before bedtime) among 64 participants. Multilevel analyses showed that need satisfaction during free evening hours was related to an improved recovery status (i.e. increased levels of vigour and decreased levels of anxiety) before bedtime. Furthermore, results showed that employees with a lower recovery status at the end of their workday reported less need satisfaction during the subsequent free evening. With these results, it can be concluded that employees who would benefit the most from satisfaction of their basic psychological needs have the least resources available to actually achieve this satisfaction. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.