I got to thinking today about how my manager has given me quite a bit of leeway to refactor some code behind an application I need to write. I strive to show him plenty of progress on the actual application, including screen shots and the like, but at the same time I also work to improve the code internals. I think he knows I enjoy it, and that it actually promotes my overall productivity in the long run.
I think what my manager is applying is a variation on Google's "20 percent time policy", and a clever one at that. Rather than spending 20 percent of the time on my own projects, I get to spend 20 percent of the time, doing things that need doing, but in my own way. This is a sort of happy medium for companies smaller than Google. It transfers some control to the employee while still providing tangible value to the company. If instead I was into documentation, well certainly by allowing me go off on a documenting tangent once in a while, that too would benefit the company.
It would appear my manager is onto something. Or maybe he's just figured out I'm going to do things my own way anyway so he may as well go with the flow ;)