Choosing a job these days isn't just about the work and the salary. Employer benefits are an important consideration in any employment decision, because they can have a huge impact on your life for good or ill. Here are three common workplace benefits that most workers will want to insist on.

Health insurance

Even basic medical care can be staggeringly expensive, and private health insurance policies can cost you four or five figures per year. That's why employer-provided health insurance definitely qualifies as a "must-have" benefit.

Insurance plans come in two basic types: individual coverage and group coverage. With individual coverage, you're the only one covered by that specific plan; group coverage, not surprisingly, includes a group of people in its coverage pool. Group coverage is a lot cheaper because it essentially spreads the health insurance company's risk out over the entire group.

Employer-provided health insurance is group coverage; at the very least, all the employees in that company who qualify for coverage will be part of the group. And companies that provide health insurance for their employees will typically pay at least part of the premiums, so you'll only be responsible for whatever is left over. Thus, employer-provided health insurance gives you access to coverage at a substantially reduced cost. This could allow you to get much better coverage than you could possibly afford through a private plan.

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Vacation time

Numerous studies have shown that time off from work is vital to our physical and mental well-being. After a good vacation, we can return to work feeling refreshed and tackle our responsibilities with new enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, not all employers see vacation time that way. Some companies pressure their employees either to never take vacations or to be available during vacations for any work-related questions or crises that arise. Both approaches reduce the benefits of a vacation. If you take vacation time despite discouragement from the higher-ups, then the resulting stress will make it much harder for you to relax and recuperate. And if you spend much of your vacation working, then it won't really feel like a vacation at all.

Before accepting a new job, get a sense of the company's attitude toward vacation time. Talk with employees at the company and ask them about their vacations -- when they last took one, how long it lasted, where they went, what they did, and so on. Just from listening to vacation anecdotes, you can often get a sense for how the company feels about using vacation time.

Contribution-matching 401(k) plan

A 401(k) account is one of the best options around for saving for retirement. 401(k)s have many advantages over IRAs: The annual contribution limits are higher, allowing workers to save considerably more money; contributions are generally pulled automatically from pre-tax dollars, which cuts your income tax bill up front and makes it easy to sustain consistent contributions; and employers often pay much or all of the account fees for 401(k)s.

As nice as a basic 401(k) plan is, matching contributions can take it to a whole new level. Company matching means that when workers makes contributions to their 401(k)s, the company contributes money as well. That's literally free money going into your retirement savings account. Different employers have different matching systems; some will match 100% of your contribution up to a certain amount (for example, if you contribute 10% of your paycheck to your 401(k), your company might match the first 2%), while others will match 50% of some part of your contribution. Regardless, you're getting an immediate and substantial return on your investment.

Most companies that have 401(k) plans with company matching will proudly tell you about them, either during your interview or when they offer you the job. If the company representative doesn't mention a 401(k) plan, ask. Having a 401(k) plan with a good company match can make a huge difference in your ability to save enough for retirement, so think twice about accepting a job that doesn't come with this benefit.