I myself did not go straight from my MA to my PhD (sort of). In my case, I graduated with an MA at 24 and then was admitted into my PhD program at 32. In addition to that, I had already been through another PhD program (which I had started immediately after my MA) and had dropped out because it wasn't a good fit, and in that sense I felt like I had even more working against me.
In the end, I was never under the impression that the gap period, lack of research, or even a prior PhD experience hurt me. I mean, maybe it did with the programs that rejected my application, but I still got into a few good programs. I would also add that when it came to actually going through the PhD program, I strongly believe that my age and life/work experiences made me a far more mature and ambitious graduate student compared to others in my cohort, which is not only something that all of my professors recognized, but it also allowed me to progress through the program very quickly.
With that in mind, I think you can leverage your work experience to your advantage. After all, the pursuit of a higher degree is not just about graduate student life and producing research, and faculty (should) know that. I think they're also looking for applicants who they can envision actually getting through the PhD program in one piece and in a timely manner, with a degree and job offer in hand at the end of it. I think having prior (related) work experience is a good indicator that you have the potential to accomplish all of that if you can connect those experiences to being demonstrably productive, as well as to your research interests. Basically, if you can think of your gap period as an advantage rather than an impediment, it shouldn't be too hard to write a convincing narrative in your application that argues just that.